S.F. Officials Warned on Dispensing Medical Pot

November 24, 2003

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

U.S. drug czar John Walters held fast to the Bush administration's hard line on medical marijuana during a San Francisco visit Monday, saying city officials who distributed pot under a voter-approved initiative would be risking federal prosecution.

Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, went to Glide Memorial Church to praise its drug treatment programs and tout the administration's plan to fund local efforts against urban drug abuse. But he spent much of his time fielding questions about medical marijuana, the target of federal raids and prosecutions since California voters approved its use in 1996.

Last November, San Francisco voters passed Proposition S, which required a study of official city cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. If city officials implemented the measure by providing pot to patients, Walters said, "it would be a violation of federal law, so I would imagine they would open themselves up to prosecution.''

"The tendency is to talk about marijuana as if it was trivial,'' but it is an increasingly serious drug problem, Walters said. He said youths are smoking marijuana at earlier ages than ever before, and "more teenagers are seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than for all other drugs combined.''

District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who took part in a meeting with Walters earlier Monday, said the drug czar's reaction to Proposition S showed that the city should move cautiously in implementing the ballot measure.

As Walters spoke, about 25 demonstrators stood across the street, carrying signs that denounced federal marijuana policy and called Walters a liar. Organizers of the protest and Glide's pastor, the Rev. Cecil Williams, are holding a forum on medical marijuana at the church at noon today and invited Walters to take part. He declined.



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