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Protesters ask DEA to change drug law

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Friday June 07, 2002

To Francisco Garcia marijuana is a medicine that helps ease the pain in the Vietnam veteran’s aching leg.  

But to federal drug enforcement officials, smoking marijuana is a federal crime because pot is an illegal drug. 

Garcia was among demonstrators in front of the Oakland Federal Building yesterday who rallied for the freedom to use marijuana medicinally, like state law allows. 

"I'm here because I truly believe in my medicine,” Garcia said. “I don't see any harm in it. The marijuana helps the throbbing in my leg go away so I can get some rest and some sleep.” 

Medical marijuana supporters, patients and city officials demanded during the demonstration that the federal drug agency stop raiding local medical marijuana dispensaries.  

The demonstration was a part of a national protest at 55 DEA offices on “National Day of Action” for which participants had planned non-violent civil disobedience events to disrupt “business-as-usual.” 

Demonstrators in Oakland carried signs reading “DEA Go Away” and “No War On Patients,” while medicinal marijuana supporters and city officials criticized the tactics of the federal drug agency. 

“The law is on our side, the people are on our side and yet the government continues to be out of step. We will not have our people looking for medicine in the dark and dangerous alleys,” said Don Duncan of the Berkeley Patient’s Group.  

The Oakland rally was organized largely by Americans for Safe Access, a local grass roots coalition of medical marijuana patients, their friends, families and supporters.  

In November 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, allowing marijuana use for medical reasons. The state law, however, conflicts with the federal law - the Controlled Substances Act - which says using, possessing and distributing marijuana is illegal. 

Thursday's protests doesn’t change that, said the DEA’s Richard Meyer, public information officer at the San Francisco’s office. 

"We support the right of every American to express his or her beliefs, they have that right,” Meyer said. “But the fact remains that marijuana is an illegal substance under the Controlled Substance Act." 

Tomorrow the U.S. District Court for Northern California is expected to determine that federal drug laws supersede state laws.  

According to Meyer, the protests do little to change the federal policy which contends that marijuana has no medical value. "We can't really have a dialogue because there hasn't been a change in federal law,” he said. “We view medical marijuana dispensaries simply as marijuana distribution centers.” 

Recent DEA raids of cannabis cooperatives in San Francisco and Wednesday's raid in Santa Rosa heightened an already tense debate over access to the leafy green plant.  

Jeff Jones, Director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative, a not-for-profit cooperative supporting patients who benefit from medical cannabis, says since the raids his organization changed the way it does business. 

The Oakland cooperative was a cannabis distribution center. Today its an advocacy organization that empowers patients with information they need to get utilize medical services. 

Oakland Councilmember Nancy Nadel supports the cause. "We need to make sure that access to every possible thing is available to patients,” Nadel said, adding that patients can contact her for help. 

Ed Rosenthal, author of “Why Marijuana Should Be Legal,” said the federal agency is committing an injustice by depriving patients of marijuana.  

"What we have here is theft on the grandest, highest level,” Rosenthal said, while shouting in the direction of the Federal Building. “We're putting you on notice. Your days are numbered. We are all tired of this."  

The DEA’s raids were legally, with warrants, Meyer said, adding that the raids are not high priorities. 

"These raids are not a priority but they are a responsibility," said Meyer. 

According to the DEA’s Web site, marijuana is harmful. The site says that more than 200,000 Americans have entered substance abuse treatment programs that are primarily for marijuana abuse and dependence. 

For Garcia, a medical marijuana user, Thursday's rally represented a chance to stand up for a cause he believes in.  

"I'm here because I truly believe in my medicine,” Garcia said. “I don't see any harm in it. The marijuana helps the throbbing in my leg go away so I can get some rest and some sleep.” 

Garcia, one of the patients who attended the rally, has lived in Oakland for 50 years. He is a Vietnam veteran. He says that no prescription drug provides the relief that marijuana does.  

"I really believe I'm not doing anything wrong,” Garcia said. “I think the federal government should change its policies. I've got to stand up and be counted.” 

According to Oakland resident Don Konecny, more than access to medical marijuana is at stake. 

"I'm here for a couple of reasons today,” Konecny said. “I love America and I love democracy. I want to see democracy served. This is not just about cannabis, it's also about democracy.” 


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