Medical marijuana activists rally against congressman

June 03, 2004

Josh Richman, Alameda Times-Star

Activists today are marking the first anniversary of the conviction of Oakland's 'Guru of Ganja' by protesting about 150 lawmakers nationwide -- including one near the Bay Area -- who voted against halting federal raids on patients, caregivers and cooperatives.

Patients and caregivers plan to gather at 11:15 a.m. today outside U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza's district office at 445 West Weber Ave., Stockton, in an attempt to pressure Cardoza, a Democrat, into changing his vote when the matter is raised again this summer.

Fat chance, Cardoza press secretary Bret Ladine said Thursday.

'Like most Americans and nearly two-thirds of Congress, Congressman Cardoza does not believe the use of marijuana for 'medicinal' purposes should be legal. He has no plans to change his position on this issue,' Ladine said. 'The amendment is an attempt to circumvent existing federal law.'

But Charles Pringle, Cardoza's Republican challenger in November's election, said he supports the amendment, and called Cardoza's vote against it 'an assault on the doctor-patient privilege.'

Voters in California and other states have decided doctors and patients should be able to consider marijuana as an option for treating debilitating illnesses, Pringle said, and 'it is an abomination for the federal government to spend millions of tax dollars raiding the homes of terminally ill patients.

'While I support the greater war on drugs, the doctors of patients suffering from AIDS, cancer ... must be given the legal autonomy to consider every possible treatment option,' he said, adding that hewill attend today's protest.

This and scores of other, similar protests from coast to coast today are being mounted by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and other groups. Targeted are those who voted against an appropriations amendment in July that would have forbidden the Justice Department from spending any money on medical marijuana raids in states with laws allowing the drug's medical use.

The amendment was defeated on a 273-152 vote, although California's delegation voted 33-19 in its favor, and most of the Bay Area's delegation supported it. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, opposed it, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, was among nine who didn't vote.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., intend to reintroduce their amendment this summer, and activists hope to get more votes this time by pressuring lawmakers now.

'This is only the beginning,' said Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs director. 'If a member of Congress votes to send cancer and AIDS patients to jail, we're going to make sure that voters in his or her district know that by November.'

Organizers chose this day for the protest because it was one year ago today that Oakland's Ed Rosenthal -- an internationally renowned marijuana cultivation expert who has become a hero of the medical marijuana movement -- was sentenced to one day in prison, time already served. He had been convicted of federal marijuana cultivation charges by a jury that wasn't allowed to hear any testimony or evidence about Rosenthal's medical motives and local authorization.



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