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Narcotics Officers Opposing Compassionate Use Initiative


The Californians for Compassionate Use medical marijuana initiative finished its petition drive with nearly 750,000 signatures, compared to the 430,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. Verification of the signatures by the Secretary of State's office won't be completed until sometime next month, but the numbers involved provide a sufficiently comfortable margin that it's virtually assured the question will appear on the ballot in California in November.

An article in the Sacramento Bee on Monday May 13 described the California Narcotics Officers Association's opposition to the initiative and their lobbying activities against the state legislature's bill on which the initiative was based. We've been asked by Californians for Medical Rights, the organization formally leading the campaign to pass the initiative, to ask our members -- especially those who live in California -- to write letters to the editor criticizing the narcotics officers for their involvement in a decision that should be wholly beyond their domain. If you live in California, please consider submitting a letter to:

The article was published 10 days ago, so if you plan to write, please do so as soon as possible. In general, short letters have the best chance of getting published.

Some points about the initiative:

* It is a medical necessity defense only. What it will mean is that patients whose doctors recommend marijuana as a treatment and who possess a quantity commensurate with that needed for personal medical use will have a defense in court on that basis.

* The initiative is based on legislation already passed twice by the legislature but vetoed twice by the Governor.

The following is a list of points you might wish to use in your letters. Remember that short letters are better, so you will probably want to pick one or two of these points rather than trying to cover them all.

* Why are the police involving themselves in what should be entirely a medical decision?

* What do the Narcotics Officers want to spend their time arresting sick people?

* Why are the drug police lobbying at all? We don't ask soldiers to decide whether or not to go to war.

* The fact that some people use drugs abusively has no relevance to whether sick people should be denied medicine.

* The war against patients is proof of the mindlessness and heartlessness of the drug war.

* Marinol, the synthetic THC pill, is often ineffective, particularly for patients with nausea, who often find that smoking marijuana is effective. It's good medical sense to have a variety of options available. And marinol costs more than $38,000 a year, vastly more than the cost of growing or purchasing marijuana.

* Attorney General Dan Lungren referred to "10,000 studies available documenting the harmful physical and psychological effects of smoking marijuana." Lungren's statement is a gross misrepresentation of those studies. But even if it were true, why then should sick people be arrested? And why is the attorney general, a lawyer, law enforcement official and politician who wants to run for the governorship, involving himself in medical decisions for which he has no relevant credentials?

* The government has forcibly prevented medical marijuana research from taking place. For more than three years, a top AIDS researchers at UCSF has been trying to initiate an AIDS/medical marijuana study, which was approved by the FDA, but various federal agencies have refused to allow for a legal source of marijuana for the study.

The following is the text of the article:

The Sacramento Bee
Monday, May 13, 1996
Capitol/State section

Pot as legal medicine? The battle goes on.
Bill fails, but initiative vote possible

By Tom Philip
Bee Medical Writer

Last year Assemblyman Richard Rainey voted for a bill to decriminalize the growing and smoking of marijuana for sufferers of diseases such as cancer. Having watched his first wife die of cancer, he had "empathy for allowing them to use something that is maybe a little bit out of the ordinary."

When Rainey faced the identical bill again this year, he voted no.

The about-face by the Walnut Creek Republican reflects the changing politics of pot.

Last year's medicinal marijuana bill received bipartisan support in the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson. This year's bill didn't survive its first committee vote, where four Assembly members who supported decriminalization last year now voted no, or abstained or simply didn't show up.

Because the proponents of medicinal marijuana don't smell victory in the Capitol, they are taking the issue straight to voters.

The secretary of state's office soon is expected to announce whether backers gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot a medicinal marijuana measure that relaxes laws more than legislators had contemplated.

"We have enough criminal sin California without worrying about a bunch of sick people smoking pot to relieve nausea," said Dennis Peron, the 50-year-old San Francisco activist who helped draft the initiative. "I see it as a litmus test about America," he said.

So do opponents.

Lessening the penalties for the medicinal use of marijuana "puts out the message that marijuana is harmless," said Tom Gorman, spokesman for the California Narcotics Officers' Association, whose surge in anti-marijuana activism was instrumental in changing the minds of lawmakers such as Rainey.

"Marijuana is not a medicine," says the association's position paper on the subject. "Any movement that liberalizes or legalizes substance abuse laws would set us back to the days of the `70s when we experienced this country's worst drug problem and the subsequent consequences."

Backers gathered about twice the number of signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot. With so many surplus signatures before the secretary of state's office, chances appear likely that it will qualify.

So voters are likely to face an autumn filled with conflict messages about the safety of marijuana, the validity of research behind its medicinal use and precisely how much the measure would decriminalize the drug.

On the research front, there are studies providing ammunition for both proponents and opponents of medicinal marijuana.

Backers such as Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, point to such researchers as Lester Grinspoon at Harvard University, who have documented the interest among cancer specialists in prescribing marijuana to combat the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

The Food and Drug Administration, in addition, has approved a prescription drug called marinol that contains a main active ingredient in marijuana, a drug that is available at taxpayer expense to AIDS patients without insurance.

In opposition, on the other hand, state Attorney General Dan Lungren referred to more than "10,000 studies available documenting the harmful physical and psychological effects of smoking marijuana," in writing to Vasconcellos last month.

And while the FDA has approved marinol, it hasn't designated marijuana as a medicine. Neither has the American Medical Association nor the American Cancer Society.

What is different this year about the politics of marijuana is the active opposition of law enforcement heavyweights such as Lungren and the narcotics officers. Neither actively lobbied against Vasconcellos' measure, Assembly Bill 1529, last year.

Lungren, said spokesman Steve Telliano, was "heavily committed" in a separate battle over regulating the state's gambling industry. While he personally opposed the marijuana measure, "no one requested us to send a letter one way or the other," Telliano said.

The 7,000-member California Narcotics Officers' Association didn't lobby against last year's version of the marijuana measure because "basically we missed the boat," said Gorman. "There's no excuse."

Both this year's bill and last year's bill would remove state legal penalties for the medicinal use of marijuana when "approved in writing by a licensed physician for the treatment of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma or multiple sclerosis."

After Wilson vetoed AB 1529 last fall and Vasconcellos tried again this year with the identical measure, not AB 2933, both Lungren and the narcotics officers were ready.

The association "came in and networked me and gave me a tremendous amount of information," said Rainey. It was this evidence against medicinal marijuana, Rainey said, that changed his mind.

"I would have voted for Vasconcellos' bill again if I thought it would pass," said Assemblyman James Rogan, R- Glendale, who abstained when AB 1529 was defeated on April 24 in the chamber's Public Safety Committee. Given its certain veto, "I just didn't think it was a prudent use of taxpayer funds to move it through again."

Anticipating this year's legislative defeat, backers began the signature-gathering for the medicinal marijuana initiative.

Unlike the bills before legislators, the initiative doesn't limit the diseases for which a doctor can suggest marijuana. Nor does the doctor's suggestion (not legally a prescription) have to be in writing.

"Even if you were in favor of medicinal marijuana, you'd have to look at this initiative and say it's bad law," said Gorman of the narcotics officers' association.

Peron, on the other hand, prefers giving doctors more leeway. "We're trusting the doctors more than politicians," he said.

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