Pubdate: Wed, 10 Nov 1999
Prop. 215 passed on November 5, 1996. This essay examines what's happened in the three long years since the historic initiative became law and what still needs to be done to implement it. Steve Kubby is a medical marijuana patient who was a gubernatorial candidate in last year's California state elections, wrote this opinion piece regarding the state of marijuana's legal status.
As George W. Bush recently observed, medical marijuana should be left up to the states to decide, and not the federal government. Bush still doesn't approve of medical marijuana, but he correctly defines our right to have a voice with regard to the laws under which we live. Unfortunately serious opposition to the idea of voters introducing their own laws still exists within the law enforcement community, which believes that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is some sort of hoax, or worse, not a law to be obeyed.
Before we were told, "If you don't like the law, change it." Now that we've changed the law we're told by our own police, prosecutors and even judges, "Prop. 215 still conflicts with Federal law and can't be enforced." If Prop. 215 conflicts with Federal law, why hasn't it been challenged in court? According to the California Constitution, unless a new law has been challenged in court, all California officials are obligated to obey it.
Also, if Prop. 215 violates Federal law, then why does the Federal government send each of its eight medical marijuana patients 7.1 pounds of marijuana per year? It's true, the same Federal government that says medical marijuana is against Federal law, mails over seven pounds of medical marijuana, rolled up as cigarettes to each of their eight Federal medical marijuana patients. The FDA even provides a note that these patients can show law enforcement. How come that's not a conflict like Prop. 215?
The shameful truth is that three years after voters approved Prop. 215, sick, disabled and dying people are being arrested, jailed, exposed to opportunistic infections, indicted, plea bargained, humiliated, bankrupted and worse, simply to uphold a drug policy that isn't working.
If only our elected officials would honor their oath of office and respect the will of the voters who wisely chose three years ago this day to protect sick people and exempt them the War on Drugs. Every elected official and all law enforcement officers are sworn to "Defend and uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." That same Constitution clearly states in the 9th and 10th amendments that all rights and powers not enumerated in the Constitution to the Federal government remain vested with the people and the states.
There is also the matter of the 9th Circuit Court decision on September 13,1999. In that decision, the appeals court ruled that seriously ill patients who have medical necessity should be allowed to use medical marijuana. That decision has just been appealed, but because it was a Per Curium Opinion, it seems doubtful it will be overturned.
If respect for the law is to mean anything in our society, our elected officials must set aside their Zero Tolerance ideology and uphold the law. Elected officials could begin tomorrow to implement the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 by taking the following four specific actions:
1. STOP ARRESTING SICK PEOPLE. Don't authorize budgets or federal grants that will be used against sick people. Adopt and implement the Oakland Guidelines to protect sick people from arrest. These are the only medical marijuana guidelines that were created by police, patients and physicians working together to establish limits based upon real world needs. If police and patients are happy with these guidelines in Oakland, it should certainly work in other California communities as well.
2. STOP TREATING SICK PEOPLE LIKE CRIMINALS. Fund a non-invasive voluntary patient/caregivers identification cards, managed by county or state health departments, which protects the privacy of patients and cannot be accessed by law enforcement agencies.
3. STOP FORCING SICK PEOPLE INTO THE BLACK MARKET. Demand that the federal government take action on the petition filed by Jon Gettman with the Drug Enforcement Administration on July 27, 1995, and reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III. That action alone would solve many of the problems and concerns voiced by law enforcement and allow patients to go directly to their pharmacist to obtain their medicine.
4. STOP PROSECUTING SICK PEOPLE AND THEIR CAREGIVERS. Elected officials must provide legal protection for sick and dying patients from illegal arrests and prosecutions. To uphold the law, officials must see to it that Grand Juries investigate any and all complaints by medical marijuana patients or caregivers regarding violations of the Compassionate Use Act.
Make no mistake; this issue is no more about marijuana than the Boston Tea Party was about tea. This is about sick and dying people who are living in fear -- just because they use a medicine that the Federal government's own IOM study showed is NOT addictive and NOT a gateway drug.
Three years is long enough. It's time to stop hiding behind federal laws and the failed ideology of Zero Tolerance. The voters have spoken and they have clearly voted to stop treating medical marijuana patients like criminals. Medical marijuana is the law; now is the time for law enforcement and our elected official to show good faith and uphold the law.