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August 2002

Will Corporate America Approve Medical Marijuana's Legal Victory

By Carol Sterritt

Amidst all the gloom and doom of the current economic downturn ("can you say 'treachery,' boys and girls?") came one bit of cheery news. On Thursday, July 18th, a most important State of California Supreme Court decision came about. This decision upholds the rights of medical marijuana patients to use their chosen medicine without disturbance.

In their first ruling on Proposition 215, Justices came to their unanimous decision. The legal battle this time pitted the state of California against the people, with the state arguing that the voter-passed initiative allows medicinal pot smokers the right to defend themselves using Prop 215 once their case comes to trial.

However, the Supreme Court Justices decided that the initiative offers patients a legal defense strong enough to help them throw out charges against them before those charges can result in a court hearing. Fighting on the side of We the People was one brave man, Mower, 40, whose ailments include diabetes, digestive dysfunction, and other health problems. Even prosecutors agreed with the defense that Mower, who has been repeatedly in and out of hospitals, was "extremely ill.

However, in addition to his medical problems, Mower had the burden of fighting a drug offense conviction. In 1998 police found 31 marijuana plants inside his home. This represented 28 plants more than the state allowed. Mower's rational explanation was that for twenty years he had used the drug to relieve his nausea and to stimulate his appetite. This argument fell on deaf ears.

A state appeals court heard his case and ruled that his conviction was valid, finding that prop 215 "simply gives those arrested their day in court." When the Supreme Court overturned this decision, even California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who had argued in favor of upholding Mower's conviction, seemed pleased.

"The court's decision strikes a balance in helping to ensure that truly needy patients will have access to this medicine under California law," Lockyer stated.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's July 19th article, the justices' decision does not fully mean that a defendant has total immunity protecting him from arrest in the first place. But in interpreting the law, there must be consideration to allow a defendant "a limited immunity from prosecution," said George in the court opinion. In general, this should indicate that if a medical marijuana user is arrested, then they could rely on the law to press their judge for immediate dismissal of the charges. Should the case end up going to trial, a patient merely has to raise a "reasonable doubt" in order to be acquitted of the charges.

"It's the most protective standard for the defendant," said Ann Brick, an attorney for the ACLU in Northern California, which filed a brief supporting Mower.

"As long as a jury thinks that the act might apply," she said, "that's enough for an acquittal."

Despite this good news, there remains one major problem: the Federal Government. Even as the California Supreme Court attempted to bring about justice for Californians, hundreds of American citizens are in Canada, asking our northern neighbor to grant them political asylum. Some refugees face as much as ten years, if returned to the US and thereby forced to face past charges.

My own interest in the medical marijuana issue has come about because of several issues in my life. One is the fact that as a Marin County voter, I was astonished that a full 85% of the voters in this County were in favor of 215. The measure garnered 58% of the vote statewide.

As a health care worker, I have known several elderly people whose close friends implored me to obtain medical marijuana for their friends' condition. Prior to the passage of 215, I was reluctant to discuss this type of thing, out of need to secure my own legal safety. After 215, the atmosphere was more conducive to discussing marijuana as an option for muscle spasticity, chronic pain, wasting syndrome, multiple sclerosis etc. Medical marijuana is not a total panacea. As a friend of mine explained on his deathbed, "The morphine knocks out a lot more than my homegrown would." But for those conditions where it is appropriately advised, it works wonders.

However, despite Prop 215's political popularity, despite the medical need, Big Government is not protective or cooperative with the statute. County wide, medical marijuana users have been hassled, threatened, and indicted. If a patient avoided arrest, they still have their marijuana confiscated. Once when I wanted to see how widespread the jailing of medical marijuana users was, I spent almost an entire evening traipsing from Web site to Web site, examining photos, reading testimonials, realizing the damage.

How much sense does it make to toss a multiple sclerosis victim, wheelchair and all, into a federal prison? The economic costs alone are staggering, to say nothing of the pain, torment and victimization of an already sick person. For some sufferers, once in prison, they are doomed - the marijuana was the only thing stopping the progression of their particular disease.

Yet even in California, police and other officials torment the ill. Former California Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Steve Kubby, who uses marijuana to stop adrenal cancer from killing him, was forced to flee Placer County. There his conviction and imprisonment for medical use of the herb would probably cost him his life. Even though the prosecution announced that they understood Mr. Kubby's plight, they still argued for his conviction as a drug user.

Fortunately for him, he has now been granted immigration status in Canada, where medicinal marijuana laws are approved on the federal, rather than provincial level. But thousands of other Americans are not so lucky. They languish in our prisons, each at a cost to American taxpayers of $25,000 to $ 32,000 a year or more.

What possible reasoning is behind this? Several things must be considered. First of all, there is a huge group of powerful people, ranging from drug case lawyers to entire departments of sheriff and police. We all know that in government "the rule of thumb" is to allow for nothing that will interfere in the growth of the bureaucracy that you head up.

Examining the "Marin.gov" Web site, one can see that in 1998, at the end of a decade in which most hard drug users in the County had sought treatment and avoided use of drugs, the official story was that the County had confiscated 50 pounds of illegal drugs. One can assume that most if not all of this was marijuana, much of it that of medicinal marijuana users. In 1999, under District Attorney Paula Kamena's lead, the County Sheriff's Department was urged to up its confiscation of illegal drugs and its arrest rate for users. However, since public sentiment was swiftly moving against Kamena, by the year 2000, the amount of confiscated marijuana fell to under twenty pounds. Yet every subsequent year has brought an increase to the Sheriff's budget.

Not only that, but several of the key court battles, pitting the County against individual medical marijuana growers, have ended up costing the County close to a million dollars. The big players in the County have a great deal to lose in terms of power, prestige and cold hard cash if the state and nation's rules about marijuana are relaxed.

And why shouldn't the laws be relaxed? Way back in the 1970's, Richard Nixon, an ardent anti-marijuana politician, assembled a group of experts to examine the safety of this drug. Even though they had ties to the White House, these experts came back to the presidential table and announced their findings. After examining this drug, they concluded that the most serious and ugly repercussions faced by the user were those repercussions that the user might incur because of the nation's anti-drug laws and the serious possibility of time in prison. I'm sure that the panel of drug experts did realize that over-use of the drug could cause ennui, lack of motivation, and a propensity to consume too many brownies and too much TV. But the worst side effect of the herb was the jail time the user might face.

The fact is: over 58% of all baby boomers have tried marijuana. Many of us baby boomers lived for long periods of our lives in college towns where the mayor, city council, most professionals, and probably most of the police were "heads."

The resulting legacy of those years is still evident: nationally most noted of the college towns such as Madison WI, Austin TX, Boulder CO etc. have better environmental laws and planning, a more highly educated populace and better health care. Whether the general marijuana use in those towns affected those factors or not is debatable-but it doesn't seem to have hurt.

Worldwide, countries more enlightened than ours have relaxed most of their penal codes regarding marijuana. You will probably not serve time in jail if found imbibing the green weed in England or Belgium. The Netherlands has legalized the use of cannabis. The result to its population? Well, fewer young people smoke marijuana there than in most other industrialized countries.

But we have not examined the Dark Side to our equation. As our country's government holds on firmly to antiquated drug laws, the major pharmaceuticals are feverishly racing to uncover the code inside cannabis. They are splitting the THC molecule microgram by microgram. Examine the wording of The Neurology Review's April 2000 article and press release: "Dexanabinol, a proprietary cannabinoid, significantly reduced the functional and pathologic brain defects in a recent study of animals with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, the most widely used animal model of multiple sclerosis, according to Pharmos Corporation."

The article goes on to explain: "Dexanabinol, which is a synthetic cannabinoid, lacks the psychotropic effect of natural cannabis. It inhibits neuroinflammation and blocks cell-death cascades, which are also characteristic of stroke, Parkinson's disease, and neuropathic pain. The recent preclinical study was reported in the Journal of Neuroimmunology." So there you have it. Though our government insists on keeping marijuana illegal, the major corporations (Can you say "Political Campaign Fund Donors, boys and girls?") are now patenting various structures inside THC. We can't allow you as a multiple sclerosis patient to grow your own. In fact, We the Government will tell You the Patient that marijuana has absolutely no medicinal value.

But when Big Government's friend, Big Industry, steps forward, with its carefully patented product, we will see to it that this product receives FDA approval. Unlike your homegrown, which costs you only for some fertilizer plus the time and money required to water it, the patented product from the pharmaceutical industry might cost you $82.50 a week. So what if a sick person can't afford it? Equally so what if the sick person is on Medicare, and the taxpayer will be paying for it, at a cost of millions and millions of dollars. No one in the world of Big Government is gonna want to let anyone grow their own. After all, we have Corporate America's profits to protect.

I would like to close out this article by giving voice to Marin County's own homegrown freedom fighter, Lynette Shaw. (Shaw heads the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, 415 256 9328.) I asked Ms. Shaw for her take on the recent State Supreme Court Ruling. She replied, "This decision is upholding both the patients' and the voters' will in the state of California. Our position is completely exonerated. We were right all along."

She went on to explain, "Although I don't like an analogy that has as its source terms relating to violence, I'll use them this one time: we have more weapons in our arsenal. Also, we do have state rights, the constitution on both the state and federal level. America was meant to be a flexible country, one that adjusts to the times. That is what the Bill of Rights is about. And to adopt to new science and modern ways of thinking so that we become a better country and not a backwards country."

As we discussed the new ruling, she said that her belief is that now the federal government will back off. (Unfortunately, other analysts do not have such an optimistic viewpoint.) I am hoping that Lynnette Shaw is right. Certainly in a nation whose government had such serious security failures that last year the tragedy of September 11th occurred, in a nation where the economic downturn has come about because of the legal and illegal greedy actions of Corporate Executives and those in high accounting positions, our government should seriously consider revamping its priorities. Leave the lady with MS in her wheelchair alone. Fix what needs fixing, and stay the heck out of the rest of our lives.

 

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