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Berkeley Kicks Off Medicinal Marijuana Week

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
The Daily Californian
Jesse Jardin

James Blair is still aching from a misstep while on a vacation in Belize.

He dived off a rock, miscalculated the water depth and snapped his neck on impact.

“Imagine diving into your bathtub,” he said.

While in intensive care in Miami, his doctor recommended that he try marijuana to ease the pain.

“I thought it was B.S., hippie medicine,” he said.

But after he tried it for the first time, he found it eased his pain.

“After the first inhale, my muscle spasms started to relax,” he said

Now Blair is fighting for the legalization of medicinal marijuana as the co-director of the Berkeley Cannabis Coop on Shattuck Avenue, which serves about 2,000 patients.

And his cause is moving forward. Medicinal Marijuana Week began in Berkeley yesterday after the Berkeley City Council approved a resolution last night calling for a patient’s right to use the drug.

The idea originated last year with Americans for Safe Access, a non-profit organization that promotes legalization of medicinal marijuana.

“The pot clubs are people who care deeply about this issue,” said William Dolphin, spokesperson for the organization. “They incur a lot more risk than your average drug dealer by waving a red flag in front of the Feds.”

Medicinal marijuana is most commonly used to ease the pain that comes with diseases like HIV/AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

But medicinal use of the drug is nothing new; it became legal in California in 1996 when Proposition 215 passed with 56 percent of the vote. In Berkeley, it passed with 85 percent support.

More recently, former Gov. Gray Davis recognized “pot clubs” as legitimate distributors when he signed Senate Bill 420 into law.

When Proposition 215 was passed, it allowed patients and caregivers to grow marijuana under doctor recommendations. But, sometimes patients and caregivers were not able to cultivate their own plants.

Senate Bill 420 attempted to resolve this issue by expanding the definition of caregiver to include “pot clubs.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said, however, that federal law ultimately overrides state law such as Proposition 215. Consequently, patients are not always protected and pot clubs face an endless roll of red tape.

And medicinal marijuana users fear federal recourse.

“It makes me nervous. I don’t want to go to prison. It is not home to me,” Blair said. “If I were put in prison I would be in that agonizing pain again.”

By introducing the resolution to the City Council to officially recognize Medicinal Marijuana Week in Berkeley, Worthington said he wants to bring the issue to the forefront and pass new regulations that will help patients get their plants.

“I don’t want to be like ‘Ra ra ra, we like medical marijuana,’” Worthington said. “I want this to be followed up by policy in March.”

The week was chosen to begin on Feb. 15 to coincide with the proposition’s number, 215.

But Blair said that even with special recognition of the week, the state still has a long way to go.

‘The people of California need to ask: How come this is not taken seriously? We are seven years down the road,” he said.

The city of Berkeley is not doing enough, Blair said.

“By this time the states should have taken control of distribution. Our mayor should lead this—he says he is progressive,” he said. “He should do with marijuana what Gavin Newsom did with gay marriages. This is potential revenue for cities, counties, and states. It reaches Republican goals as well as Democrats’.”

Copyright © 2004, The Daily Californian