Bay Area politicians lobby for medical pot

February 20, 2003

Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune,

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two Bay Area lawmakers are leading Sacramento's effort to urge California's U.S. senators to secure states' rights to regulate and oversee medical use of marijuana. State Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, have co-authored a letter signed by 48 legislative colleagues calling for an end to federal meddling in California's and other states' medical marijuana activities. They want Congress to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow a medical necessity defense -- exactly the goal of a bipartisan bill soon to be introduced by Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach. They also want Congress to cut the budgets of any federal department which harasses, intimidates and prosecutes Californians who act under the auspices of the state's medical marijuana law. The Drug Enforcement Agency has been raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in the past few years, and U.S. attorney's offices in California have been prosecuting some of the cases; both agencies are part of the Justice Depart- ment. Leno disclosed the letter, addressed to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and signed by 34 other Assembly members and 14 other state senators, at a news conference Thursday outside San Francisco's federal office building. He announced he and Perata will introduce a legislative resolution next week to the same effect. "We're here, very simply, to protect Proposition 215," Leno said, referring to the medical marijuana ballot initiative approved by 56 percent of voters in November 1996. "The federal government continues its assault on the will of the people of California." Leno said the letter was inspired by the recent conviction of Oakland marijuana grower Ed Rosenthal by a federal jury, which was not allowed to consider his protection under state law and nor told of his protection under an Oakland ordinance. He called it "a miscarriage of justice." Perata was not at the press conference. Later Thursday, he called the Rosenthal conviction "a huge step backward." "It seems to me that it's a crystal-clear issue and that Congress ought to act, and come down on the side of medicine, not crime," he said. Rosenthal was at the news conference, and said it was "very emotional ... and extremely gratifying" for him to see state lawmakers speaking out on his behalf. A Dateline NBC segment on Rosenthal's case is scheduled to air at 9 tonight. Leno noted that Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., probably will soon re-introduce the same bill he has authored in each of Congress' last several sessions, calling for marijuana to be moved to a less restrictive list within the Controlled Substances Act and forbidding the federal government to interfere with states' administration of their own medical marijuana laws. About a third of California's House delegation co-sponsored the bill during Congress' last session, including all of the Bay Area's representatives except Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and Richard Pombo, R-Tracy. The bill was referred to a House subcommittee, where it languished and never had a hearing. Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com .

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