Annual Pot Fair Plants Awareness
February 24, 2005 9:01 PM
Trays full of cannabis brownies, cakes and other baked goods sit on tables in a room hazy with marijuana smoke at the San Francisco Patient’s Cooperative and Medical Cannabis Community Center.
This assortment of “medicated” confections and profuse marijuana consumption was the culmination of the third annual National Medicinal Marijuana Week, which began Feb. 12.
National Medicinal Marijuana Week originated in Oakland in 2003 to support medicinal cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal and to educate a community that was largely unaware of medicinal marijuana issues, said Alex Franco, volunteer coordinator for Americans for Safe Access.
This was San Francisco’s first year participating in National Medicinal Marijuana Week, and the organizers, medicinal marijuana advocacy groups Americans for Safe Access and the California Marijuana Party, have branded the week a “huge success.”
“Our goals were to spread awareness and support for medicinal cannabis and let the local government know we appreciate their support,” Franco said, “and I think we have been extremely successful.”
The weeklong series of events included concerts, a “spreading the love seed planting,” a benefit honoring medicinal marijuana activists Ed Rosenthal and Dennis Peron, several educational seminars and a medicinal marijuana health fair.
SF State graduate Kevin Zin, 25, works at the Medicinal Cannabis Center in San Francisco, but said he does not smoke marijuana.
“I think it’s cool that it’s used for treatment, as long as it doesn’t turn into abuse,” said Zin, who described himself as a conservative. “But I think that using it too much is a negative thing.”
Stewart Kellar, 22, is a broadcast and electronic communication arts major at SF State. Kellar said medicinal marijuana is valid for serious illness, but believes that the practice has gotten a little “willy nilly.”
“Medicinal marijuana being used to treat anything is ridiculous,” Kellar said. “(Marijuana) shouldn’t become like a blanket medicine.”
Kellar said that many people, including a friend of his, are getting marijuana recommendations for illegitimate ailments.
“I think that when it’s used for cancer patients its one thing,” Kellar said. “But when it’s like ‘oh, I ate some bad Chinese food, give me some pot,’ it’s not medically sound.”
Use of medicinal marijuana became legitimate in 1996, when 56 percent of Californians passed Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act. The proposition, which became California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5, granted “seriously ill” Californians the right to obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. It became the first statewide medical marijuana voter initiative adopted in the United States.
The active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can be smoked or ingested to stimulate appetite, reduce nausea and ease chronic pain, according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.
Some of the most common maladies treated by marijuana are cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis and migraines. However, the proposition states that use can be extended to “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”
Patient Stephanie Delucca was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, and developed Mycobacterium Avium Complex (MAC), a bacterial infection of the intestines.
Delucca said she was given six months to live and as a last resort prescribed medicinal cannabis. Since then, Delucca said, her MAC and HIV have been dormant, due in large part to medicinal cannabis.
“Marijuana plays a big part in my health and my life,” Delucca said. “I doubt I’d be alive and healthy today without it.”
Since 1996, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have also approved ballot initiatives legalizing medicinal marijuana.
However, propositions such as 215 put state law in direct opposition to federal law which, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, deemed any marijuana use illegal. This creates a difficult situation for medicinal cannabis users and distributors, who are subject to federal raids and prosecution despite state legality.
San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said this discrepancy between federal and state law is the reason that the medicinal marijuana system is “rife with problems.”
“Medicinal distributors must pirouette around the federal impediments,” Mirkarimi said. “Clubs are forced to operate in the shadows.”
Wayne Justmann, a counselor and advisor at Alternative Herbal Health, a medicinal cannabis “club” on Haight Street, said that Medicinal Marijuana Week was “well served to continue to educate the populous on the proper use of cannabis.”
Justmann acknowledged the risk of operating a cannabis club despite possible federal prosecution, but said he is more concerned with providing care to those who need it.
“Our goal (at the club) is to meet the needs of the patients on a day-by-day basis and hope that we are able to provide care tomorrow as well,” Justmann said.
Since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, several bills provide defined state guidelines for medicinal marijuana possession. Senate Bill 420 allows patients to possess up to six mature or 12 immature plants and up to a half pound of dried marijuana.
The amount of marijuana that patients may legally possess and cultivate varies from county to county. For example, in Sonoma County, patients can have as much as 99 plants and 3 pounds.
In some counties like San Francisco, patients may also obtain voluntary medical cannabis identification cards which make it easier for law enforcement and cannabis distributors to identify legitimate patients.
Dewayne Tully, spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, said that the SFPD acknowledges medicinal marijuana patients and will not cite individuals who can show proof of their patient status and are within possession guidelines.
“We uphold the law, whatever it may be,” said Tully. “If a person has a card and doesn’t exceed the set (possession) amounts, they won’t be cited or arrested.”
Franco said she expects a bright future for medicinal cannabis in San Francisco. Organizations such as Americans for Safe Access will continue to celebrate and support medicinal cannabis, Franco said.
“Someday hopefully, everyone will be educated about our cause,” Franco said. “and then we’ll have no need for medicinal marijuana week.”
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