Protestors hope to educate police about medical marijuana

August 28, 2006

Mary Beth Hislop, Spartan Daily (CA)

Although the scheduled demonstration by the Silicon Valley Cannabis Patients Union sparked the limited interest of just a handful of onlookers, this did not prevent union President Jim Lohse from igniting a pipe full of marijuana outside of the San Jose State University Police Department at 4:20 p.m. on Friday.

Lohse said the 4:20 start time for the demonstration was a direct reference to SB420, which outlines provisions for distributing medical marijuana.

"It's actually legal for me to stand here and smoke," Lohse, 32, said.

The protest was organized by Lohse's union in response to the arrest of Christine Flora, a homeless woman, who was arrested on campus by UPD on July 26 on suspicion of possessing nearly one-half ounce of marijuana, even though she had a medical marijuana identification card.

However, campus police Sgt. John Laws said it is often difficult to determine the legitimacy of the identification cards.

"I can tell you the ones I've seen in the past … they're not very official looking," Laws said.

Lohse and fellow union member Chuck B., 52, who asked that his last name be withheld, were arrested and cited by campus police on Aug. 4 when they smoked marijuana outside of the police department.

Lohse said he and Chuck were trying to educate law enforcement officials that smoking is legal if a person has a valid medical card. Lohse said both of them do.

Chuck said the police confiscated his marijuana, took away his heart medication and left him handcuffed in a holding cell for at least 45 minutes.

Lohse said he doesn't understand why marijuana is so maligned.

"One bottle of alcohol will kill me," Lohse said. "Fifteen hundred pounds of marijuana would kill me."

Lohse said he is frustrated by law enforcement agencies that do not honor California law SB420, which prevents arrests of qualified individuals for possession of a specific amount of marijuana and requires police to comply with these provisions.

The bill was drafted by former state Sen. John Vasconcellos in order to clarify the mandates of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative, which was passed by California voters in November 1996. While the proposition gave medical marijuana users a defense in court, it did not prevent their arrest - SB420 does this.

The bill passed the state senate in September 2003 and was signed into law by former Gov. Gray Davis.

Laws said that there are several organizations that are legitimate and do a good job in making sure that those who receive medical marijuana really need it.

"There are (also) some organizations that are thinly-veiled drug suppliers," Laws said.

Former Libertarian congressional candidate Dennis Umphress attended the demonstration to distribute information from Americans For Safe Access, a grassroots organization that promotes the rights of patients and doctors to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Umphress said UPD is ignorant of the law.

"I'm here to conduct law enforcement training," Umphress said.

Umphress said he goes to different cities to advocate and demonstrate for medical marijuana clients. "We didn't start out as protesters, which is the funny part," he said.

Laws said he does not know if any UPD officer saw Lohse smoking marijuana on campus last Friday, but he was not arrested. Laws said the department has not established any new policies for medical marijuana users.

"We are in conference with the local D.A.'s (district attorney) office to determine whether we need to modify our procedures regarding marijuana enforcement," Laws said.



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