More MS news articles for July 1999

Clash over medical marijuana bill

Published on July 21, 1999

By Noah Isackson

SACRAMENTO -- A state bill that would create a registration system to regulate the use of marijuana as medicine would not pre-empt federal laws prohibiting the drug, White House officials said Tuesday.

"This is not a commentary or critique on the bill," said Tom Umberg, deputy director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a former Democratic Assemblyman from Orange County. "The bill is mostly a work in progress, and we're simply stating what federal policy is." The bill by Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, proposes a registry to protect legitimate medical marijuana users and growers from prosecution.

Patients with a doctor's recommendation that they use marijuana to control pain, nausea or other conditions would be added to the registry and get an identification card showing law enforcement that their marijuana possession was legal.

Vasconcellos called the federal government's position "a continued federal assault on the wishes of California voters who enacted Proposition 215," the 1996 initiative that attempted to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes.

"The Clinton Administration does not get it," Vasconcellos said in a written statement. "They are not the final word on medicinal marijuana in our state."

In addition to asserting that marijuana is illegal under federal law, Umberg said that Vasconcellos bill ignores the findings of a federal study that said that marijuana smoke is carcinogenic.

The report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that further research should go into methods whereby people could ingest the drug without inhaling any smoke, Umberg said.

Vasconcellos agreed with the government study but said "compassion dictates we allow access (to marijuana) while research continues."

News of the report came as no surprise to Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who supports Prop. 215 and Vasconcellos' bill.

"I don't know if they've said anything particularly revolutionary," said Nathan Barankin, a Lockyer spokesman. "All we're trying to do is create a system that respects the will of the voters and at the same time protects the public's safety and health."

Meanwhile, some medical marijuana advocates accused the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- and its top official, Gen. Barry McCaffrey -- of ignoring the people's will.

"Gen. McCaffrey has presided over America's worst public policy failure since the war in Vietnam," said Bill Zimmerman, executive director of Americans for Medical Rights. "He has no right to tell Californians how to create and enforce state laws."