San Francisco Voters Approve City Cannabis Distribution

November 05, 2002

Ann Harrison, Agence France-Presse,

San Francisco, CA (AFP)-- The city of San Francisco may soon begin cultivating their own lush crop of world-renowned California marijuana. Voters here have enthusiastically supported a ballot measure directing their city officials to consider growing and distributing medical cannabis.

Proposition S, which passed by 63%, could make San Francisco the first city in US to provide cannabis for sick people. It will also put the city, and the state of California, on a direct collision course with the federal government.

California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) allows doctors to recommend cannabis for their patients. Since then, medical cannabis dispensaries have sprouted up around the city to give patients safe access to high quality marijuana instead of having to score it on the street. Nearly 4,000 patients have enrolled in San Francisco's novel Medical Cannabis Identification Card program administered by the Department of Public Health.

On October 29th, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the US government could not revoke a doctor's license for recommending cannabis to those with chronic illness. The court found that this policy interferred with the free speech rights of doctors and patients. The judges also upheld a two-year court order prohibiting the goverment from revoking the licenses of these physicians.

But the federal government still refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Proposition 215. Under the Bush administration, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has been raiding medical cannabis clubs in California arresting patients and activists. Opponents to Proposition S question the medical value of marijuana and argue that the city does not have the resources to properly protect a valuable marijuana crop from theft.

'We think it sends the wrong message to the country as a whole that the city of San Francisco will get into the business of growing marijuana,' said Richard Meyer, a special agent in the DEA's San Francisco field office. Meyer argues that no scientific study supports the medical use of marijuana and insists that the US Congress makes laws for all of the US. 'The US Congress has not rescheduled marijuana which remains a Schedule 1 substance with no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse,'said Meyer.'We will uphold these laws.'

Despite the threat of arrest, patients and care givers in San Francisco continue to pioneer the use of marijuana to alleviate the suffering of people diagnosed with serious medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and chronic pain. Activists point to a report by the Institute of Medicine, commissioned by the White House in 1999, which presents scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of medical cannabis. Since 1996, voters in eight other states have passed similar laws supporting the rights of patients to use medical cannabis.

Many activists say they are disappointed that Proposition S only directs San Francisco to consider distributing medical cannabis instead of compelling the city to do so and offering an implementation plan. But they hope that the passage of Proposition S will push the state of California to block federal drug raids and provide added protection for vulnerable patients.

'The state should be supporting voters and patients by taking the risks on themselves to go up against the feds, and it lays down the gauntlet for the state to do something,' says Hilary McQuie, campaign coordinator for Americans For Safe Access which supports the rights of medical cannabis patients.

'The will of the voters of California and eight other states must be respected,' wrote the four San Francisco City Supervisors, or city counsel members, who supported the ballot measure. They affirmed that the city of San Francisco 'will do whatever it takes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens.' According to the Supervisors, Proposition S 'shines a light on an outdated and scientifically unsound federal medical cannabis policy for the entire world to see.'

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