Valley resident off to D.C. on quest for medical weed

June 18, 2006

K. Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

The words on the medical report seem impenetrably abstract - bilateral recess encroachment, stenosis, foraminal encroachment.


What they mean to Sky Valley resident Garry Silva is pain.


Excruciating, continuous pain in his back and legs, which, said Silva, a legal medical marijuana user under California state law, is the result of injuries he suffered when federal drug agents raided his home and confiscated several dozen medical marijuana plants in March.


And though he'll need a wheelchair to do it, today and Tuesday he will be on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., lobbying lawmakers - especially Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs - to pass the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment.


The amendment, put forward by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, N.Y., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would ban the federal Drug Enforcement Administration from making raids on medical marijuana patients in states, including California, that have legalized medical use of the drug.


Bono, who is up for re-election in November, voted for the amendment in 2003 and 2004 but voted against it last year.


Silva is scheduled to meet with Bono on Monday afternoon.


"We need to discriminate between drug addicts and patients," he said. "Right now, it's all the same. We need to change the law."


Kimberly Collins, a spokeswoman for Bono, said in an e-mail Thursday that Bono changed her vote after last year's Supreme Court decision in Raich vs. Gonzales, which ruled that federal drug laws take precedence over state medical marijuana laws.


"Prior to the ruling, Congresswoman Bono voted in favor of Hinchey-Rohrabacher out of respect for states rights and the will of California voters," Collins wrote in the e-mail. "Given the Supreme Court ruling, she respects the supremacy of federal law and the Supreme Court's recent interpretation of the federal government's role in enforcing national drug policy."


A vote on the amendment is expected around June 27 or 28, said Caren Woodson of Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group, which is paying for Silva's trip to Washington.


David Roth of La Quinta, Bono's Democratic opponent in the election, did not return calls asking for his position on the amendment.


Medical marijuana laws


At the time of the raid, Silva was growing medical marijuana for patients at a collective dispensary, CannaHelp in Palm Desert. Collective growing is allowed under California's medical marijuana laws, passed in 1996 and 2003, and Silva made no profit off the plants, both he and CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel said.


But the DEA enforces federal law, under which growing or using marijuana of any kind is illegal.


On the morning of the raid, Silva said, he was opening his front door for the agents but got hit by the door as they tried to push it open. He was knocked to the floor, he said, and his left shoulder was dislocated and broken.


Now, he relies on heavy pain medications, including the narcotic fentanyl, and has had to drastically reduce his work installing custom and commercial window coverings.


Silva was not arrested, but the agents confiscated about 37 plants.


Sarah Pullen, DEA spokeswoman, said: "Our agents used proper procedures during the execution of the (raid). As of yet, there's been no formal complaint filed with our agency."


Pullen said the raid on Silva's home was part of an ongoing investigation but did not provide further details.


Silva will not say whether he is planning legal action against the agency.

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