Medical pot bill rejects jail
Growers, suppliers would qualify for acquittal

February 19, 2003

Bob Egelko, SF Chronicle,

Reacting to the latest wave of federal marijuana prosecutions and raids, a California congressman announced legislation Wednesday that would keep medical marijuana growers and suppliers out of federal prison. The U.S. Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration has "no respect for the laws we here in California have established to allow patients to live pain-free lives," said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. Farr's bill would apply to California and seven other states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Anyone charged in those states with growing, transporting or distributing marijuana, in violation of federal law, would qualify for an acquittal by proving that the marijuana was intended solely as medicine. The bill, to be co-sponsored by Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, is not the first attempt to get Congress to make allowances for states with medical marijuana laws. Rep. Barney Frank, D- Mass., has tried for years to shield those states from the federal ban on marijuana but has been unable to get a hearing on his bill in the Republican- controlled House. "I think it'll be a long haul," said Farr, who plans to introduce his bill within a few weeks. Rohrabacher, who like Farr supports Frank's bills, said he thinks fellow Republicans would back such measures overwhelmingly if they could vote secretly. "Most conservative Republicans have a very strong libertarian streak," Rohrabacher said in an interview. "A large number of these people are politically afraid of having someone claim that they're for legalizing all drugs, attacking them viciously in a Republican primary." Rohrabacher said he voted for Proposition 215, the 1996 California medical marijuana initiative, and that he believes the federal government should respect the will of a state's voters. Rohrabacher said the issue became personal several years later when his mother, after hip surgery, was suffering from pain and appetite loss -- which he thought might have been eased by marijuana. She recovered from surgery but died after a later operation. "I couldn't help thinking, when I was in the hospital feeding her, what a travesty it is that my mother, who's lived such a good life, would be denied marijuana if it could actually help her," Rohrabacher said. Farr was accompanied at a Sacramento news conference by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and by relatives of two men recently convicted of marijuana cultivation, Bryan Epis and Ed Rosenthal, as well as jurors from Rosenthal's trial. The trial judges in both cases barred all evidence of medical marijuana. Epis, who was tried in Sacramento, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Rosenthal, who was tried in San Francisco, faces at least a five-year term under federal law. Medical marijuana supporters say about 20 similar federal prosecutions are pending in California. In September, the DEA angered local and state officials by raiding a medical marijuana club in Santa Cruz -- part of Farr's district -- that was run by two of the authors of Prop. 215 in close cooperation with local authorities. No criminal charges have been filed in that case. Richard Meyer, spokesman for the DEA in San Francisco, would not comment on Farr's bill but said, "I think the assumption is being made that marijuana is kind of a cure-all, which is completely false. Marijuana causes more harm than good."

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