Medical pot activists converge

March 07, 2004

Nelsy Rodriguez, The Desert Sun

-- Nearly three decades after she started using marijuana following a stroke, Patty Thomas said she still relies on the drug for relief.

Thomas of Palm Springs described how marijuana provides refuge from pain associated with her lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin, joints, blood and kidneys.

"Yeah, it gets me high," Thomas told about 40 other people Sunday during a pro-marijuana rally in Cathedral City. "It makes me forget about my pain and I can get on with my life."

Thomas and the others gathered at the Cathedral City Library showed up to hear from cannabis activist and former gubernatorial candidate Dennis Peron, but they also shared their own stories about the value of the drug in their lives.

Peron, who spoke with increasing passion throughout the event, urged the audience to join him in a crusade to lift restrictions on laws that regulate marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

"I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a politician," Peron said of the roles he’s assumed during his lifelong campaign to loosen drug laws. "But I became all these," he added, imploring the audience to join him.

"I’m asking you to become a doctor, become a lawyer, become a politician," Peron said.

One locally based band of activists is taking Peron’s vision before the Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Leaders of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project of the Coachella Valley will ask the supervisors to pressure district attorney Grover Trask to clarify the way law enforcement differentiates between legitimate and illegal use and possession of the drug.

Lanny Swerdlow, director of the activist group, accused Trask of overzealous scrutiny of medical marijuana users.

"We’ve got to stop people being arrested in Riverside County," Swerdlow said.

According to a 1996 ballot initiative and a 2004 supplement to the act, people with a doctor’s permission are allowed up to six mature pot plants for medical purposes.

Trask was unavailable for comment Sunday, but in letters to Swerdlow the district attorney said hard and fast criteria for deciding on cases would be impractical and could harm the public.

"This office would not want to mislead the public by announcing discretionary marijuana quantity guidelines, the following of which could still subject citizens to arrest and imprisonment by federal authorities," Trask wrote in 2001.

LaVonne Victor, a multiple sclerosis patient from Temecula who recently had drug charges against her dropped, credited her knowledge of state law, including for escaping prosecution.

Victor, who uses a wheelchair due to severe spinal cord pain, was arrested and charged in 1999 for growing pot.

The dropped charges proved she was right, Victor said.

"We were following the law and they knew it," she said.



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