Legislators ask Congress to protect medical pot

February 20, 2003

Bay City News, reprinted in Benicia News & Vallejo News,

State Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, announced Thursday that 50 California legislators have joined in asking the state's Congressional delegation to push for changes in federal law to protect medical marijuana. "We're here to protect Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996,'' Leno said a news conference on the steps of the Federal Building in San Francisco. "The federal government continues its assault on the will of the people of California,'' the assemblyman said. Leno said 35 state Assembly members and 15 state senators have signed the letter to U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California. Copies of the letter, which was co-authored by Leno and state Senator Don Perata, D-Oakland, will also be sent to all California Congressional representatives, according to Leno aide Bob Hartnagel. Leno said the state legislators are acting in response to recent federal prosecutions of medical marijuana growers, including Oakland marijuana author Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted in federal court in San Francisco of marijuana cultivation charges earlier this month. Rosenthal, who attended the news conference, said, "It's extremely important that the patients of California be protected from the federal government. We're talking about a valuable medicine.'' California's medical marijuana law, passed by state voters, allows patients to use marijuana for medical purposes upon a doctor's recommendation. Rosenthal claimed he was growing starter plants for patients, but because he was prosecuted under federal laws, he was not allowed to use the state law as a defense. He will be sentenced in June and under federal law faces a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years in prison, although his lawyers have said he may be eligible for an exception from the minimum requirement. Leno's and Perata's letter urges three changes in federal law, two of which have already been proposed in Congress. The changes include legislation that would protect medical marijuana patients and local-government-authorized growers from federal prosecution in the eight states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, announced Wednesday that he and Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Dana Rohrbacher, D-Huntington Beach, are sponsoring such a law. Another of the proposed changes in the federal law would allow people who are prosecuted on federal marijuana charges to argue a defense of medical necessity. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has proposed such a measure. The third change proposes cuts in budget allocations to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors for enforcement of laws that are being applied to medical marijuana users. The letter says the 50 state legislators "ask our colleagues in Congress to bring federal law in line with the will of the vast majority of California and American voters.''

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