Marijuana & the DEA’s War on Drugs

I don’t smoke pot. In fact I don’t use drugs of any kind these days, so when I encountered a protest march going down Market Street here in San Francisco, a demonstration for medical marijuana and against the Drug Enforcement Agency, I took it all in from the sidelines. I recalled recent reports on the evening news regarding the Ed Rosenthal case.

A year ago Federal DEA agents raided Rosenthal’s home and his West Oakland marijuana-growing facility and other sites. Although California voters passed a state law called Proposition 215 decriminalizing marijuana for medical use, federal law still bans all growing, possession and use of the drug. What I could recall from the news were that the jurors who convicted him were speaking up, saying they made the wrong decision. They claimed they were ordered not to consider our state law in the case. They said they weren’t told of the local Oakland ordinance either meant to protect certain growers from prosecution. The jury convicted Rosenthal following the letter of the federal law they were told they had to follow so he’s spending five years in a Federal prison. The jurors, who now know the truth, are stating that if they’d known about the city ordinance they would have refused to convict no matter what federal law says. Apparently this practice of juror manipulation is somewhat standard.

According to this Sierra Times story on the Bryan Epis trial, “Jurors for the trial were instructed by Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. not to consider any argument regarding Epis’ chronic pain, his doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana or the state law that allows access to medical marijuana for patients in his position. Jurors were also not instructed on the mandatory minimum sentence that he faced as a result of their decision.”

The Sierra Times refreshed my memory regarding Article X of the Bill of Rights too. The federal government is not allowed to exercise any power in any area that is not specifically granted it by the Constitution. Drugs are not included. When California voters passed a state law for the medical use of marijuana upon a doctor’s recommendation, it is within our state constitution to make such a decision.

So while San Franciscans are hitting the street to say enough is enough, even bipartisan California lawmakers are getting tired of being ignored with a bill intended to keep legitimate medical pot growers and users in California out of federal prison. The language of the bill hasn’t been finalized, but those charged with growing, transporting or distributing marijuana in California or seven other states with similar laws could be acquitted proving the marijuana would be used as medicine.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency pledges to continue the war on drugs, stating that “The assertion that all medical marijuana is headed for seriously ill patients is misleading.” While I don’t doubt that there may be those sliding through under the guise of medicinal use, what if they are?

The War on Drugs hasn’t done anything to stop the availability on the street, has been the most prominent excuse for pervasive racial profiling and the violation of basic civil rights of Americans. Furthermore, as stated on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website, President Jimmy Carter acknowledged: “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”

Having watched friends with HIV/AIDS experience wasting syndrome with a complete loss of appetite bounce back thanks to the use of marijuana, I know there are medicinal benefits. To treat such users as criminals, in a state whose law says just the opposite, is quite frankly an outrage. It’s good to see people out in the street banging their drums and speaking up. It’s one of the things about living in San Francisco I’ve come to expect and one of the reasons I love living here.