April 20, 2000
By EVELYN NIEVES
ANTA CRUZ, Calif., April 19 -- It looks like a traditional bed and breakfast, at first. In the grand tradition, it stands proudly Victorian, with fancy flourishes, quirky nooks and painstakingly picked 19th-century antiques. But the Compassion Flower Inn also boasts an elaborate marijuana mosaic in the tile surrounding the hot tub in the lovers' suite, and walls stenciled with marijuana leaves in the "hemp bedroom."
As the nation's first bed and breakfast inn catering to medical marijuana users, the Compassion Flower Inn is receiving more attention for its opening than a five-star hotel. The co-owners, Andrea Tischler and Maria Mallek-Tischler, had spent so much time fielding calls in recent weeks that today, on the day before their big opening party, they and a small army of volunteers were still fussing with finishing touches.
"We don't really understand all the attention," said Andrea Tischler, a longtime proponent of the medical use of marijuana.
"We had this idea to create something beautiful and do something for the medical marijuana community. We don't really think it's such a big deal."
Here in tolerant Santa Cruz (population: 52,000), where socialists become mayor and law enforcement has long looked the other way when it comes to prosecuting medical marijuana users, the opening of the Compassion Flower Inn is part of the message the city is sending to the rest of the country: that the time has come for the legal use of medical marijuana. Last week the Santa Cruz City Council approved an ordinance that made the city the first in the nation to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana without a doctor's prescription as long as it is sold at cost or given away.
The ordinance, which takes effect on May 11, is Santa Cruz's effort to implement Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative that California voters approved in 1996. After the state initiative passed, then-Attorney General Dan Lungren, as well as the federal government -- whose position is that any use of marijuana is illegal -- continued to prosecute those who grew or used the drug for medicinal purposes.
The medical marijuana movement was essentially shut down through lawsuits by state and federal officials.
That situation has eased since Bill Lockyer became California's attorney general last year. Mr. Lockyer appointed a medical marijuana task force, which issued recommendations for guidelines on implementing Proposition 215. The guidelines became a state Senate bill, but it was tabled last fall when Gov. Gray Davis threatened to veto it.
In September a federal appeals court permitted a cannabis club to continue operating in Oakland, which passed an ordinance in 1998 allowing the use of medicinal marijuana under certain guidelines. Now, Santa Cruz has gone further -- allowing the medical use of marijuana with a doctor's note certifying that the patient has a condition for which marijuana is considered helpful, including AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, anorexia, chronic pain, arthritis and spastic diseases.
Despite that federal court ruling, federal prosecutors say Santa Cruz does not have the power to circumvent federal drug laws.
Santa Cruz officials are confident, though. The hope, said City Councilman Mike Rotkin, is that Santa Cruz's law could serve as a model for other cities in California, as well as other states that have approved the use of medical marijuana only to find themselves locking horns with federal officials.
Santa Cruz's law protects doctors who have been threatened with the loss of their license by federal officials if they prescribe medical marijuana. It allows them to write a note stating that the patient suffers from a serious condition that marijuana has been known to alleviate.
The Santa Cruz law also makes the growing of marijuana contingent on its being sold for the cost of production or given away so that the medical marijuana user does not have to resort to buying the drug at street prices, said Valerie Corral, director of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a medical marijuana collective in Santa Cruz.
Ms. Corral, who uses marijuana to alleviate grand mal seizures suffered from epilepsy, said members of the collective pay $2 for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana, as compared to $50 to $85 on the black market. "This ordinance creates a closer, compassionate community in Santa Cruz," she added.
Watching friends dying of AIDS in San Francisco in the mid-1980's who were helped by medical marijuana persuaded Andrea Tischler and Maria Mallek-Tischler to become active proponents of the drug's legal use for the seriously ill. The two helped to found a cannabis buyers club in Santa Cruz (one of a half-dozen clubs shut down by the federal government) and lobbied for the statewide initiative, which passed in Santa Cruz with 76 percent of the vote.
It has taken three years to turn a falling-down house into the Compassion Flower Inn, including a full year of Ms. Mallek-Tischler's talents as an artist. She created all the faux marble treatments on the doors as well as all the watercolors on the walls, the mosaics in and outside the house, and the gardens.
Ms. Tischler, who spent 25 years renovating Victorian houses in San Francisco, supervised the project.
"You know," Ms. Tischler said, as she pointed out the green and cream
color scheme of the exterior, "anyone can stay here -- anyone with an open
heart and mind."