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Pot Shots

San Diego v. Prop 215

by FRED GARDNER

Raids on July 6 targeted 11 San Diego cannabis dispensaries. Owners of some of the dispensaries not raided that day were heard to say that they were spared because they were running proper establishments. As if the DEA made such distinctions! On July 21 the remaining clubs were visited by law enforcement and told to close or else. They have all complied.

"Two DEA agents accompanied by one local cop went around to the clubs," says organizer Dion Markgraff. "They didn’t have search warrants. They threatened to arrest everyone if they didn’t shut down. Places that let them in had all their medicine stolen. One or two places didn’t let them in. Two or three others got word and shut down before they came around. At one of those places the DEA called the landlord and pressured him to make sure they wouldn’t re-open."

DEA agent Dan Simmons characterized the shut-downs as "courtesy visits." Dispensary staff were told that they were violating state as well as federal law. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is taking the position that all sales of marijuana are illegal -despite several court rulings to the contrary and the wording of the Health & Safety Code as modified by Senate Bill 420 and the appellate court ruling in People v. Urziceanu. Dumanis also refuses to accept that California law authorizes the use of marijuana as a treatment for conditions she doesn’t deem serious. In statements to the media she has said that she supports medical marijuana "wholeheartedly" – but dispensaries represent an abuse of the law, something the voters didn’t have in mind when they passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

The district attorney of San Diego is misstating the facts. Ten years ago this week the biggest story in California was the raid that shut down Dennis Peron’s San Francisco Cannabis Buyer’s Club. On Sunday morning August 4, some 100 agents from the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, supervised by John Gordnier, the Senior Assistant Attorney General who had obtained the court order, raided 1444 Market Street. Simultaneously, five smaller BNE squads raided the homes of Buyers Club staff members in and around the city. The raiders wore black uniforms with BNE shoulder patches. They seized 150 pounds of marijuana, $60,000 in cash, 400 growing plants, plus thousands of letters of diagnosis that citizens had brought from their doctors and left on file at the club.

"It was strange not seeing any San Francisco police," remarked Basile Gabriel, one of the SFCBC employees detained for questioning that morning, "it felt like the state had invaded the city." Mayor Willie Brown said the high-profile bust had been carried out unbeknownst to him, and he accused Lungren of "Gestapo tactics." (The club’s front door had been battered in and the raiders hung black drapes over the windows to conceal what they were doing from civilian observers on Market Street.) The San Francisco Medical Society protested the confiscation of medical records as a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality. Dennis Peron charged that closing him down was "step one in Lungren’s No-on-215 campaign. It was timed to kick off the Republican convention in San Diego. They want to make the war on drugs a big issue because what else have they got?"

A few of Dennis’s so-called allies in the Yes-on-215 campaign did not want to see him reopen. They argued that ongoing publicity around his operation would jeopardize their chances of success at the polls on November 5. Bill Zimmerman went so far as to urge the northern California ACLU chapter not to file an amicus brief on Dennis’s behalf. "Every time I debate Brad Gates," said Zimmerman, referring to the Orange County Sheriff, a No-on-215 leader, "he always begins by saying, ‘This bill was written by a dope dealer from San Francisco,’ and emphasizes the looseness with which the Cannabis Buyers Club was run."

On Monday, Sept. 30 the Chronicle, the LA Times, and many other papers in California began running a Doonesbury strip in which Zonker’s friend Cornell says, "I can’t get hold of any pot for our AIDS patients. Our regular sources have been spooked ever since the Cannabis Buyers’ Club in San Francisco got raided…"

Attorney General Lungren feared the impact these strips would have on the Prop 215 campaign. He urged the publishers who carry Doonesbury to spike the entire set. "Alternatively," he suggested in a letter that was widely run as an op-ed piece, "your organization should consider running a disclaimer side-by-side with the strips which states the known facts related to the Cannabis Buyers Club." According to Lungren, the BNE investigation had established that the club "sold marijuana to teenagers. Sold marijuana to adults without doctors’ notes. Sold marijuana to people with fake doctors’ notes using phony doctors names and in some cases written on scrap paper. Allowed many small children inside the club where they were exposed for lengthy periods of time to second-hand marijuana smoke. Sold marijuana to people whose stated ailments included vaginal yeast infections, insomnia, sore backs and colitis -hardly terminal diseases. Sold marijuana in amounts as large as two pounds, greatly exceeding the club’s ‘rules.’"

Lungren called a press conference for Tuesday, Oct. 1, to reveal some of the evidence his investigators had assembled against Peron and the SF Cannabis Club. Unfortunately, he lost his cool during the question-and-answer session. "Skin flushed and voiced raised, Attorney General Dan Lungren went head-to-head with a comic strip Tuesday…" is how Robert Salladay began his Oakland Tribune story. Don Asmussen in the SF Examiner lampooned "Lungren’s War on Comics." The New York Times devoted two full columns to the brouhaha, including a quote from Peron: "Crybaby Lungren… I think he’s just gone off the deep end. Waaa!"

According to the polls, a gradual decline in support for Prop 215 ended Oct. 1. Lungren had Peron arrested Oct. 5 on criminal charges that included conspiracy to distribute marijuana -one more effort to make the vote a referendum on the proprietor of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop carried the No-on-215 message in a final TV ad. Press conferences denouncing Prop 215 were held by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Former presidents Ford, Carter and Bush released a letter calling for its defeat. Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein opposed 215, along with 57 of 58 district attorneys and all the law-enforcement lobbies.

We, the voters passed it by a 56-44 margin. We were trying to tell the government something about marijuana, based on our collective experience and understanding. That message has been ignored. How dare they call this system "democracy?" What a bunch of liars are at the helm.


Listening to Acomplia

Patient One is a 53 year-old-man who has been taking Acomplia for 10 days. He would like to bring his weight down about 25 pounds. He obtained the drug -which works by blocking cannabinoid receptors in the brain- via an onl-line Canadian pharmacy. Acomplia, made by Sanofi-Aventis, was approved for sale n England in late June. U.S. approval is expected this Winter. Advocates say Acomplia not only facilitates weight loss, it leads to a healthier lipid profile. Skeptics say that blocking cannabinoid receptors can lead to various metabolic problems.

Patient One paid $422 for three boxes containing 28 tablets each. He is taking one 20 mg tablet/day in the late morning. He says he sensed an effect by dinner the first night. "This drug doesn’t take away your appetite like Meridia, which I once used. With Acomplia you have to consciously remind yourself to stop eating because you’re on a diet. But it’s no problem to stay stopped because you have no craving." This pattern has continued: "I tell myself ‘Stop’ and then I don’t want to eat another bite."

How has Acomplia affected his mood? "I think I’m a little more on edge. Nothing dramatic."

Pain level? "I’m noting a lot of aches in my upper torso, but then again I’ve just gone back to the gym. Or the drug could increase muscle tension."

Has he observed any other effects? "GI -a secretory diarhhea. But then again, I’ve found a new sushi house And coffee! One cup and I’m flying! This has been consistent."

A potentiating effect on Peet’s? "I don’t even use Peet’s. I have a weak brew here at the house."

Patient One is a Californian who has a doctor’s approval to use marijuana, but he hasn’t done so since starting his Acomplia regiment. He has some marijuana on hand, the effects of which he is familiar with, and we look forward to his report on if and how being on Acomplia affects his response to cannabis. Other Acomplia users are invited to send their feedback (see below).

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com