Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
By Maggie Shiels
In San Francisco
San Francisco may get into the illegal drug business by being the first city in the United States to supply patients with medicinal marijuana.
An initiative being put on the ballot in November will ask voters to urge city officials to look at growing cannabis and distributing it to seriously ill people.
If the move is given the green light, it will set the city on a collision course with the federal government.
"Possession, cultivation distribution of marijuana is illegal, period," says Richard Meyer, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in San Francisco.
California has already crossed swords with the government on the issue of medicinal marijuana.
In 1996 voters overwhelmingly backed Proposition 215 which allowed for
the setting up of cannabis clubs to help people who are seriously ill.
But because federal law trumps state law, the DEA has closed down many
of these clubs.
That aggressive action in the face of what Californians voted for prompted Mark Leno, who is sponsoring this new initiative, to go on the attack.
Mr Leno is a San Francisco city supervisor, who is running for election to the California state senate this November.
"If the federal government would get out of our hair and leave our clubs alone we wouldn't have to be doing this", he says.
"But I am not just going to sit on my hands and have every one of our
clubs closed down by an aggressive and intimidating government while there
are literally thousand of San Franciscans who can't get access to their
One of those is Clifford Braun who has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 24 years and has been wheelchair-bound for most of that time.
He gets through the day by taking a cocktail of drugs, but he says the one thing that really makes a difference is cannabis.
"Marijuana was recommended to me by my doctor in the hospital when I was first sick," he says.
"Marijuana is a great quelling factor for MS. It makes me eat. It just makes me feel better all round and that's the bottom line."
Mr Braun's carer and friend Kitty Nabozny agrees that medicinal marijuana has improved his quality of life.
"When he smokes the medical marijuana, it makes all the other medications work in his body," she says.
"It takes away some of the depression and the mood swings he gets when he is in pain."
Until a year ago, Dennis Peron had his own cannabis farm that supplied many of the pot clubs now shut down by the DEA.
He was also the author of Proposition 215 and says that since the DEA got heavy-handed, the black market for the drug has skyrocketed and many people are being ripped off.
"The black market says $4,000 for a pound of marijuana, but when I grew it, it cost me $200 for a pound," Mr Peron says.
"Basically patients are being exploited and they have to pay all this enormous amount of money for medicine that is saving their lives."
At this stage the proposal being put on the 5 November ballot merely
asks city officials to look into the issue of a pot growing programme.
If approved, as expected, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor would have to enact legislation that would specify where and how the cannabis would be grown, whom would be supplied and under what circumstances.
Officials would also have to take into consideration the legal battle against the federal government.
The DEA's Richard Meyer predicts trouble ahead if the initiative is enacted.
"It would be breaking the law and it is our job to enforce the federal drugs laws of the United States," he says.
California is among nine US states with medicinal marijuana laws.
Mr Leno is in no doubt that the city will be setting an important precedent
with this move, which he believes sends out a compassionate message about
how to treat the sick and the dying.
© MMII, BBC