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Commentary

The Cannabis Crusades: Medical Marijuana and the Recall Election



The San Francisco Chronicle recently published an article in which I expressed regret at not being allowed to vote in the upcoming California gubernatorial recall—the first election in which I would not be voting since I turned 18, 40 years ago. I had been told by my probation officer that my three felony convictions related to cultivating medicinal marijuana had also resulted in the loss of my right to vote.

Although I was spared prison time, the loss of my voting rights was cruel punishment for me, because I have always been politically and civically active.

It is remarkable that I ended up with the felonies, since I had been deputized by the city of Oakland and promised immunity from prosecution for providing medicine to qualified patients.

Still, I feel a certain satisfaction about the recall campaign. I watched one of my daydreams come true in the first debate. Medical marijuana was the only issue that all the candidates agreed upon: all pledged to uphold California’s marijuana laws. State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, the most conservative, was the most ardent—stating that the federal government should stay out of the state’s business.

When Dennis Peron opened San Francisco’s first medical marijuana dispensary nearly 10 years ago, there was virtually unanimous agreement among politicians and the criminal justice community that marijuana wasn’t a medicine. Furthermore, the risk was too great for the medicine to be permitted. What a difference a decade makes. In 1994, no reporter would have asked the question, but if they had, every candidate would have pledged to redouble efforts to eliminate “the assassin of youth.”

All the candidates agreed that medical marijuana should be “legal,” but there are definite differences in their attitudes toward what legal means and who should decide. This is significant, because some California state agencies are still at war against this popular medicine. The California attorney general’s Medical Board is prosecuting doctors based on complaints. Neither patients, their caregivers, nor their loved ones are complaining. No, all the complaints are being filed by officers or prosecutors thwarted when they attempt to arrest or prosecute a patient. Police and prosecutors in some counties have declared war on medical patients, spending an inordinate amount of time and taxpayers’ money to harass people whose only crime is that they are ill.

State probation and parole orders sometimes limit use of medical marijuana, even in life-threatening cases. Could you imagine the uproar if a judge denied a diabetic the use of insulin?

These actions are being fueled by the inflammatory rhetoric of the California Narcotic Officers’ Association. The organization denies that marijuana has any medical use and encourages police and prosecutors to view all medical cases as bogus. Its lobbyists use obstructionist tactics and threaten legislators inclined to vote to implement provisions of Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana law. CNOA functions as a clique of verbal terrorists fighting against patient’s rights.

The problem with the implementation of Proposition 215 is that it is based on the “stakeholders theory,” where all the interested parties reach a compromise. This policy may work for water rights, but it is insane when patients’ health is compromised.

The idea that the criminal justice system is a stakeholder in a health and medical issue is ridiculous on its face. The police have training only in identifying marijuana and arresting its owners. They have no cultivation expertise, know next to nothing about the herb’s medical use and have no sociological knowledge to lend to the discussion. The police’s only vested interest in marijuana is using tax dollars to arrest and incarcerate users of any type, recreational or medical. The police industry’s influence in this medical and sociological debate is inappropriate, since their representatives mostly deny marijuana’s medical benefits and view arrests as an employment issue.

That’s why this recall campaign is such a watershed. All the candidates accept marijuana as medicine. How each one would implement the law is of prime importance to the 70,000 Californians holding medical marijuana recommendations. Will patients using this exceedingly safe herbal medicine continue to be held hostage to “stakeholders’ whose interest is a high arrest count?

Meanwhile, readers of my article in the Chronicle contacted the newspaper to correct the disinformation my probation officer had given me—as a convicted felon not currently in prison or on parole, I in fact retain my right to vote. Ironically, just as the jury in my trial only learned the truth of my case outside of the courtroom, I only learned the truth about my voting rights outside of the criminal justice system. While I was certainly pleased to learn that my right to vote remains unbreached, I wonder more than ever how long we will allow our criminal justice system to misrepresent the facts to achieve its own ends.


Ed Rosenthal, co-author of Why Marijuana Should Be Legal, is a medical marijuana pioneer. He was convicted in a landmark federal case in Spring 2003, following which the jury rebelled against the judge’s refusal to allow the presentation of the relevant facts of the case. He was a featured speaker at the Independent Institute Policy Forum, “The Truth About Medical Marijuana,” October 2nd, at the Hotel Nikko, in San Francisco.






  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org