Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Palm Springs-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, has seen first-hand that marijuana can be used as an effective medicine while he was caring for an AIDS patient twelve years ago. “There wasn’t anything that was more effective at controlling the nausea associated with the drug cocktail,” Swerdlow says. “It was also good for relieving pain and boosting appetite. I was always opposed to marijuana prohibition, but I hadn’t recognized the medical power of this herb that’s been around for thousands of years.”
Swerdlow was so moved by his care-giving experience that he helped to establish Oregon’s medical marijuana initiative. And when he moved to California, it only made sense that he should become active supporter of Prop 215 and the legal morass that it’s created for patients in the state.
The proposition, passed by 55% of voters in 1996, is a scant 400 words and has had the law enforcement community in a legal quandary since it’s passing. Since pot possession and distribution, even under a doctors recommendation, is still illegal under federal law, many local governments and agencies have resisted the implementation of the proposition. Cities throughout the Inland Empire have banned medical marijuana dispensaries outright.
The virulent anti-pot sentiment runs so high that last year San Bernardino County joined with San Diego and Merced counties to sue the state of California over the issue. Their contention was that, since the proposition violated federal law, it’s unconstitutional. Although San Diego Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt threw the lawsuit out, both San Diego and San Bernardino counties have elected to appeal the decision. Swerdlow was so appalled by the waste of taxpayer money that he made the issue the subject of his weekly radio show, Compassion And Common Sense. Not only are the counties wasting money on a legal battle to oppose the states voters, but since the state is being sued, California has to pony up the cash to fight it. The Weekly wanted to discuss the matter with the San Bernardino County Supervisors, but our repeated calls for comment went unreturned.
“Riverside County was the first county in California to implement a patient ID card program,” Swerdlow says. The program would effectively allow patients safe access to their medicine without the threat of harassment from law enforcement. “San Bernardino County was ready to set one up, too. But the County Board Of Supervisors put a stop to it,” Swerdlow says. Their lawsuit against the state was filed shortly thereafter.
But all the hand wringing on both sides of the debate might just be so much wasted energy. Last week, an Orange County court ruled on a case involving a medical marijuana patient, Felix Kha, who was pulled over for a traffic violation. When the officer conducting the traffic stop asked him if he had any drugs in the car, Kha produced his prescribed pot and a doctors prescription. His medicine was confiscated and he was charged with drug possession. The drug charges were eventually thrown out, but Kha wasn’t satisfied with the small victory. He wanted his medicine back. The City of Garden Grove refused, worried that returning it would violate federal law. Kha won his lawsuit and had his medicine returned. But the legal precedent of the case extends far beyond Kha’s medicine.
Dale Gierienger, director of California NORML, says that the case spells out for local municipalities and agencies that they can’t refuse to implement a state law because it conflicts with federal policy. Lanny Swerdlow isn’t surprised. “The California constitution says the exact same thing,” he says.