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Proponents of easing marijuana laws brace for legal bat

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Proponents of easing marijuana laws brace for legal battles

San Francisco plan takes the forefront

By Martha Mendoza, Associated Press, 11/10/2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Stung by the defeat of marijuana law reform measures in three states, proponents of decriminalizing the drug are preparing for a new round of political and legal battles.

Voters on Tuesday defeated a Nevada measure to legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana, an Arizona initiative that would have likened marijuana possession to a traffic violation, and a South Dakota initiative that would legalize hemp farms.

Several local measures did pass, including resolutions in 19 Massachusetts districts asking the state representative to support making marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal violation.

But the ''crown jewel'' of marijuana reform laws was passed in San Francisco, authorizing the city to make it official policy to explore the establishment of a medical marijuana growing and distribution program, said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

It is in San Francisco, where the mayor, top prosecutor, and many voters support legalizing medical marijuana, that his group's fight will be centered.

''We in hypocrisy-filled, stinkyville Washington, D.C., want to use your beautiful city as a beachhead in the drug war,'' Kampia said.

He joined about 500 marijuana reform advocates in Anaheim during the weekend for a three-day conference to regroup after the election and plan the next step.

The attendees agreed they have a lot of work to do. Federal drug enforcement officials have said the election marked the beginning of the end of the legalization movement.

The election was ''a stunning victory of common sense over pro-drug propaganda,'' said John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He said that from now on, ''the tide runs our way.''

''Well, I'm up to the challenge,'' said Kampia. ''I say we fight.''

The next offensive for the reform movement will take place in several different venues, said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy.

Politically, advocates plan to press San Francisco officials to follow through on what some considered a somewhat symbolic piece of legislation and actually start planting marijuana gardens and giving the drug as medicine to sick and dying people.

That would be illegal under federal law, despite state and local laws that allow it, Richard Meyer, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in San Francisco.

''Whoever cultivates, possesses, or distributes marijuana is breaking federal law regardless of intended use,'' he said. ''We'll be conducting business as usual.''

Zeese said such confrontations are necessary.

''Part of the process is to sharpen the conflict,'' he said.

Eight states have approved medical marijuana, and 35 states have passed legislation recognizing marijuana's medicinal value. But federal law bans marijuana under any circumstances.

In the past year, DEA agents have raided several medical marijuana providers in California, mostly without support from local law enforcement.

Shawn Heller, national director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has chapters at 200 college and high school campuses, said other local initiatives and perhaps another state proposal should be organized.

On the legal front, a federal appeals court ruled last week in San Francisco that the government cannot revoke the prescription drug licenses of doctors who recommend marijuana to sick patients.

During the next few months, federal judges in California are expected to hear several more cases involving a patient's attempt to use medical marijuana, and in one case to retrieve marijuana confiscated in a raid.

Angel McClary Raich, who uses marijuana every two hours to control pain for an array of medical problems including an inoperable brain tumor, has a case pending in US District Court in Oakland.

''I'm fighting for my life, but also I'm trying to help other patients,'' she said.

While lawyers and advocates are pushing for reform in public venues, a group of doctors has been investigating the possible medical benefits of marijuana.

Those results, if conclusive, could sway the American Medical Association's opposition to medicinal marijuana.

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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