Wednesday, March 25, 1998
Medical Marijuana Backers March in San Francisco Protest: About 200 rally at the federal building as U.S. officials ask judge to close four cannabis clubs.
By MARY CURTIUS, Times Staff Writer
S AN FRANCISCO--Medical marijuana advocates prayed, marched and rallied downtown Tuesday in support of the state's cannabis clubs as the federal government asked a U.S. District Court judge to shut them down.
Nearly 200 people marched down Market Street to the federal building, where San Francisco Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan said the city will supply medical marijuana to patients if its cannabis clubs are shuttered.
Inside the building, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer took under submission the government's request for a permanent injunction shutting four Northern California cannabis clubs. The government alleges that the clubs sold marijuana to undercover drug agents in violation of federal drug laws.
"This case is not about Proposition 215," said Mark Quinlivan, arguing for the Department of Justice. "What this case is about is the upholding of federal law."
But William Panzer, arguing for the Oakland Cannabis Club, said the federal government for years "has arbitrarily and capriciously," suppressed or ignored studies that showed marijuana to be a safe medicinal drug.
Attorneys for other clubs offer other arguments: That federal law may be violated to prevent a greater harm, such as the death of patients who smoke marijuana to maintain their appetites, and that privacy rights allow seriously ill patients access to drugs that will relieve pain and possibly sustain their lives.
California voters in November 1996 approved Proposition 215, which said that chronically ill patients with a doctor's recommendation could grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The law also says that a primary caregiver may provide the drug to ill patients.
Club operators say they act as primary caregivers in providing the drug to thousands of patients who otherwise have no safe way of purchasing it. But in separate cases in the state and federal courts, the Justice Department and state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren have argued that Proposition 215 did not legalize the clubs and that the clubs are not primary caregivers for their clients.
In February, the California Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that Proposition 215 did not legalize cannabis clubs. The federal government filed its civil suit against four Bay Area clubs, a club in Eureka and one in Santa Cruz in January. The Eureka club and Flower Therapy in San Francisco subsequently closed. Breyer on Tuesday heard the consolidated cases against the four remaining Northern California clubs.
In a separate development, the director of the Santa Clara County Medicinal Cannabis Club--a club many looked to as a model of a well-run cannabis distribution center--was arrested in San Jose on suspicion of illegally selling marijuana.
Peter Baez was arrested Monday night on suspicion of selling marijuana and released Tuesday released on bail, a San Jose Police Department spokesman said. Baez is suspected of selling marijuana to a client who allegedly provided no documentation that he was ill or that a physician had recommended that he use marijuana for medicinal purposes, Sgt. Chris Moore said.