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Monday May 21, 2001

What side are you on in the marijuana fight? 



Who's afraid of the U.S. Supreme Court? Not the medical marijuana patients’ movement. 

The May 14 ruling by the Supremes added no new onerous elements to the United States’ prohibitionist war on drugs. All Justice Clarence Thomas, writing the majority opinion, could do was refer to the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and re-iterate its unscientific and highly political findings that “Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception.” 

In other words, the Supremes’ response to the five year old medical marijuana patients’ movement is essentially, “read Congress’ lips,” to which I respond, “talk to the hand!” 

We have gone beyond the point where a corrupt group of judges (the recount in Florida proved that Gore won the popular vote there!) can tell us to follow the unscientific and politicized rulings made by a Congress who, for the most part, are indebted to large corporations (pharmaceutical, alcohol, tobacco and others) and to the Prison Industrial Complex. And we aren't going to be turned around! 

In 1979 (ten years after the Controlled Substances Act quoted by Justice Thomas) voters in Berkeley passed The Berkeley Cannabis Ordinance. The Ordinance mandated that cannabis law enforcement be the lowest possible priority of the police department. It also required the City Council to ensure that no city funds were spent for cannabis law enforcement and that there were no arrests for citations for cannabis law violations. The city has never been in compliance with the mandates of this ordinance. 

This year, after two and a half years of input and initiative from the Medical Marijuana movement, the Berkeley City Council adopted a conservative and controversial set of growing and possession standards for Medical Marijuana. In doing this the Council ignored he recommendation of its own Community Health Commission which, recognizing that there are indeed medical benefits to marijuana use, argued for the same (higher) standards as exist in Oakland. 

So what’s new. Politics, politics, politics. If it’s OK for the highest judicial body in the land to be anti-democratic and unscientific, then it must be OK for the Berkeley City Council. But who can blame them? After 30 years of the recent round of the war on drugs, a war that disproportionately negatively impacts communities of color, a war in which the prohibitionists have mastered the act of the big lie - say it loud enough and long enough and people will believe it — honorable people, even progressive people can get confused. 

Which is why I hearken to the words of Benson B. Roe, M.D., Emeritus Professor and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, who in October, 1996, stated: “Opponents [of medical marijuana] want us to worry about ultimate legalization of the ‘drug’ and question the scientific evidence of its medicinal value. More importantly we should question the scientific evidence for any harm or danger from its use and thus should ask what justification is there for outlawing it. Cannabis (marijuana) has been widely used for centuries (longer than tobacco) and no significant disease process or toxin has been identified with it. With firm medical certainty I would far rather have my kids smoke pot than either tobacco or alcohol, the lethal effects of which are well known.”  

Frederick Douglas, ex-slave and fighter for freedom, stated “Power surrenders nothing without a struggle.” The medical marijuana movement is a struggle for medical rights, a struggle for civil rights. The old union song asks, “Which side are you on?” Are you on the side of democracy, science and compassion, or are you on the side of corporate control, ignorance and cruelty? 


Robin M. Donald 



Israel has hurt hopes for peace 


The taxpayers of America should not worry about the inefficient use of their hard-earned dollars. Israel used some of its exorbitant aid from the United States to hire two New York public relations firms, Rubenstein Associates & Morris, and Carrick & Guma, to help polish American-tailored sound bites. Its efficiency is evident from the number of Israel’s supporters parroting those test-marketed arguments (“We Must Seek Peace in the Middle East” 5/12-13/2001). 

Daryl Kutzstein starts his letter by making the point everyone agrees with: there should be peace in the Middle East. His startling claim mirrors Ariel Sharon’s statement at his swearing — in that Israel’s “hand is extended in peace.” 

Kutzstein furthers the Israeli government’s line that it is all for peace instead of looking at the reality that it shoots unarme Palestinians, assassinates officials, lays siege on villages, and enforces a colonial system of settlements. 

If that is Israel wanting peace, I would hate to see it wanting war. 

Palestinians actually know that all too well. Israel wanted war in 1948 and 750,000 civilian Palestinians paid with their homes. According to Kutzstein/Israeli government, that is all now irrelevant. He writes so arrogantly, “We must move from asking who did what and when.” The crime is always trivial to those who benefit but how can he have the nerve to ask the victims to forget? 

Now five million refugees keep their homeland in their memory and the catastrophe that forced their exile is central to their life. This catastrophe is Israel’s establishment. Israel refuses to accept accountabilty for this exile, even though it refused and still refuses them to return to their homes. How can you negotiate with a government that will not even acknowledge its own actions? 

Israel’s supporters do not help when they repeat arguments merely because they fit conveniently into a need to rationalize Israel’s bellicose behavior and Apartheid regime. It comes from a psychological need to reconcile one’s beliefs (Israel is good) with an unpleasant reality (pictures of Israeli soldiers shooting kids). 

For example, Kutzstein categorically dismisses the Students for Justice in Palestine occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley as anti-Semitic. 

He relies uncritically on several alleged incidents he surely did not witness, and certainly did not read in the official record. It is convenient and comforting to pass on hearsay spread by critics attempting to smear a successful and engaging event he is predisposed to disagreeing with. 

Kutzstein similarly sees no problem with uncritically repeating Israel’s claim that “Israel has offered ... the most generous peace ever.” It is a worthless claim because it is relative to a frankly unimpressive past. 

Their commitment to peace should not be measured by what they offered in the past, but whether they offered what is needed for peace. An Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, reported that this is uncorroborated. Israel’s supporters take it at face value without question or doubt. 

The fact is that Israel was only willing to give up partial administrative control over most of the West Bank and Gaza, which it illegally occupies anyways. What is it giving up by negotiating land it is obligated under international law to withdraw from? Israel was essentially negotiating its compliance with UN Resolution 242. 

If one starts with the conclusion that Israel is benevolent and genuinely interested in doing what it takes to bring peace, there can be no serious discussion about peace. The term peace has been so diluted and made meaningless by cynical use, we cannot even talk about ending the violence permanently until we begin by confronting the history and the fundmantal facts on the ground. The Palestinians are a displaced people. Israel is the country that displaced and continues to marginalize and repress them, and deny the Palestinians fundamental rights. Once we recognize that, we will understand what is needed for peace. First, we must be painfully honest. 

William Lafi Youmans 



Green Party is all about saving Berkeley trees  



I would like to correct some factual errors which appeared in Carol Denney’s letter (May 8) regarding the library trees. 

Regarding the three “public input workshops” which were held on the Shattuck Avenue redevelopment project, Green Party members were in fact in attendance. As soon as it became clear that the proposed plan would call for the removal of nearly all the trees downtown, and that the planning group was not going to budge, we joined an organized effort to save the trees. Our members made phone calls, petitioned, and participated in a demonstration in which we symbolically “chained” ourselves to the very trees in front of the library that were subsequently destroyed. Our work to save the trees was done well before the proposal went to the City Council for its approval, not just after the fact. 

Unfortunately, the momentum at the time was too strongly on the side of the consultants, who were wedded to their downtown plan. The opponents of the plan had to struggle to get anything at all, even a compromise to relocate the trees. The alternative would have been a virtual clear-cut of Downtown. The compromise wasn’t at all what we would have preferred. However, the final plan saved or relocated many of the downtown trees, certainly a better alternative than the original plan going ahead unchanged. 

The City Council resolution explicitly stated that the trees in front of the library would be relocated. The outrageous decision to cut them down, after the Berkeley community had been assured that they would be relocated, was entirely the fault of irresponsible and unaccountable city employees who 

directly violated the City Council directive and the compromise agreement. The City Council and City Manager are also at fault since to date nothing has been done to address their actions. 

The Green Party was, is, and will continue to be committed to protecting trees in Berkeley and elsewhere from unnecessary destruction. 


Greg Jan 

County Councilor for the Green Party of Alameda County