Medical pot rally draws noisy crowd

April 04, 2012

David Duran, Bay Area Reporter

On the heels of a raid by federal authorities of a marijuana teaching facility and dispensary in Oakland, about 500 people attended a noisy rally in front of San Francisco City Hall Tuesday imploring the feds to back off medical cannabis.

Elected officials were in attendance to lend their support; out Supervisor David Campos said he and the other LGBT supervisors were working to protect the rights of medical marijuana patients.

"I am so proud that the three members of the LGBT community who serve on this board sent a letter to the Department of Public Health to say that we in San Francisco need to protect the rights of patients and we in the LGBT community, especially, need to make sure that the rights of patients are protected in this city," Campos said.

The Monday raid in Oakland included Oaksterdam University, established by marijuana legalization advocate Richard Lee; a related dispensary; and Lee's apartment. No arrests were made, although Lee and others were briefly detained.

"Yesterday's events were a chilling reminder of what our activists have been up against for over the past 10 years," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. Sherer, who led the rally on Tuesday, told the crowd that this was a movement about compassion and truth.

The rally also drew support for a legislative hearing in Sacramento next week. On Tuesday, the first hearing of AB 2312, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Control Act, will take place. The bill, introduced by gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), not only allows for medical marijuana sales it also makes it clear that dispensaries are allowed under state law. California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996.

If passed, Ammiano's bill would allow "collectives, cooperatives, and other business entities to cultivate, acquire, process, possess, transport, test, sell, and distribute marijuana for medical purposes." The bill also makes it a misdemeanor for a doctor to give a bad recommendation, and would limit dispensaries to one per 50,000 residents in a city. It also creates a medical marijuana bureaucracy.

Under the proposed legislation the governor, the Assembly speaker, and the Senate Committee on Rules would appoint nine people to the Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, a new body within the Department of Consumer Affairs. This body would be in charge of the Medical Marijuana Fund, which would be funded with state fees and fines.

Ammiano, who met with Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California last December to discuss what was happening with the federal crackdown, was critical of her in a statement read at the rally.

"It was clear at that time that she did not appreciate the history, she didn't understand the issue, and she did not know what she was getting into," read Ammiano's statement.

Campos is asking the health department to expedite the permitting process for dispensaries that were shut down so that they can re-open as quickly as possible.

"There is not time to waste, patients are waiting," said Campos.

Board President David Chiu also spoke at the rally.

"There are these confused attorneys in D.C. and the White House who need to hear the message that we are standing together for health care, we are standing together for our sick, disabled, and seniors, and we are standing on the right side of history on this issue," Chiu said.

 He was joined by out Supervisor Scott Wiener of District 8, which includes the Castro and has the largest group of people living with HIV in the city. He warned supporters of the upcoming $7 million in federal cuts to HIV funding.

"They are forcing us to try and scramble to find a way to keep our safety net for people living with the disease and they are now telling us that people in the county of San Francisco can't even have access to their medicine," said Wiener.

Matt Dorsey, who is openly gay and HIV-positive as well as a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, took time to deliver a message from his office.

"One, our entire office support for the compassionate use of medical cannabis and two, our opposition to the heavy handedness of which federal authorities are trying to roll back decades of progress on this issue," he said.

 Dorsey also warned of possible threats to dispensaries due to a case that is currently before the state Supreme Court, Pack v. Long Beach. The decisions by a lower appellate court in this case, as well as one other, have been harmful for patient access to medicine, but the Pack fallout has been particularly damaging. The Pack ruling in October set off a firestorm of cities and counties moving to ban dispensaries throughout the state, even beyond the Second District of the California Court of Appeals where the case was decided.

Medical cannabis patients also spoke out at Tuesday's rally. David Goldman, a member of the core leadership group of the SF chapter for ASA said, "I want to make it clear that it is completely disingenuous for the federal government to target licensed medical cannabis dispensaries while claiming that this so-called crackdown will not target individual patients."

Patients like Goldman depend on dispensaries to provide a safe place to access quality, laboratory tested medical cannabis products.

Charlie Papas, co-founder of two dispensaries in the Tenderloin that are currently closed, said, "We are not a profit-making criminal organization, we are supplying medicine for people who need it."

Haag has said that no one is immune from action by the federal government. San Francisco, which has shown staunch support for medical cannabis over the years, continues to move ahead with its medical cannabis program of permitting dispensaries, despite extensive federal intimidation.

ASA filed a lawsuit late last year against Haag and the Department of Justice, challenging the crackdown as a violation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. In its lawsuit, ASA argues that by coercing public officials, the DOJ is obstructing the law-making function of the state, which goes well beyond its prosecutorial discretion to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act.

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