California lawmakers stand up for medical pot

February 24, 2003

James Tressler The Times-Standard ,

Some California lawmakers seem to be getting fed up with the federal government continuing to ignore the state's medical marijuana law. This past week U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, announced a bill intended to keep legitimate medical pot growers and users in California out of federal prison. The language of the bill hasn't been finalized, but generally anyone charged with growing, transporting or distributing marijuana in California or seven other states which have legalized medical pot could be acquitted by proving the marijuana would be used as medicine. That bill follows the efforts of Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, who for several years has tried unsuccessfully to get a similar bill heard in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, co-sponsored Frank's bill. Thompson could not be reached directly last week for comment on the Farr bill. In an e-mail statement released by staff, Thompson said he will support Frank's bill when it is reintroduced, and supports Farr's efforts as well. "I am supportive of efforts to allow states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes to implement their own laws without federal intrusion," Thompson said. "I commend him for wanting to introduce a bill that respects the laws states have made for their own people and hope that this bill is a compromise that the Republican leadership can move forward." Also, at least 50 lawmakers in the state Legislature this week signed a letter urging the California Congressional Delegation to secure states' rights to regulate and oversee the use and cultivation of medical cannabis, amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to allow a medical necessity defense, and cut federal departments which use money to harass and prosecute Californians who comply with the state's law. The letter came in the wake of the recent conviction of Ed Rosenthal, the self-proclaimed "Guru of Ganja." Rosenthal's defense that he was growing medical pot for the city of Oakland was not allowed into testimony by the judge hearing the case. After Rosenthal's conviction, several members of the jury publicly apologized, saying they would have acquitted Rosenthal if they had been allowed to review that evidence. California voters in 1996 passed Proposition 215, which allows people to legally use marijuana as long as they have a doctor's prescription. Six other states have passed similar laws, but the federal government has refused to recognize the legality of medical pot. The U.S. Supreme Court has supported the federal government, ruling that existing law bans all use of the drug. Humboldt County, one of the state's most well-known marijuana-producing areas, has also been a constant battleground between state and federal law. About 250 people currently have 215 cards issued by the county Public Health branch. Two years ago, then-Sheriff Dennis Lewis refused to give 1 ounce of pot back to a medical marijuana patient after the pot was seized by deputies in a routine traffic stop. A Superior Court judge found Lewis in contempt for his refusal, but Lewis appealed to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which eventually took the pot off his hands and destroyed it. District Attorney Paul Gallegos recently introduced new prosecution guidelines, which allow 215 patients to possess 3 pounds of processed marijuana per year. Gallegos also allows them to have up to 99 plants, but growers say that in practice that number is actually much lower because the mature plants must fit within a 100-square-foot area, indoors or outdoors.

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