By Don Thompson
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Conservative and liberal senators joined Wednesday to pass a statewide medical marijuana registry that could test the limits of an adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision last month.
The measure pits California's landmark medical marijuana law against last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision that Proposition 215 cannot supersede federal laws against marijuana distribution. Since voters approved the ballot initiative in 1996, eight other states have passed similar measures.
"We need to go forward to force the issue," argued conservative Sen. Maurice Johannessen, R-Redding. "Law enforcement in some areas has zero tolerance. Law enforcement in other areas says, 'Two pounds -- is that all you have?' -- and kicks them loose."
The measure passed the Senate 23-8, reflecting its unusual support by both medical marijuana advocates and law enforcement officials from Attorney General Bill Lockyer on down. It now goes to the Assembly.
Patients and caregivers -- those who provide the patients with marijuana -- would be immune from arrest on state charges if they join the statewide registry.
The measure also bars state prosecution of doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients, and allows caregivers to cultivate marijuana cooperatively for medical purposes under the auspices of the state Department of Health Services. Distribution by such marijuana clubs was specifically outlawed by the Supreme Court decision.
Law enforcement organizations said they want an easily verifiable, uniform, statewide registry so they don't waste time and money charging a legitimate medical marijuana user who will go free under California law. Supporters said California has had difficulty enacting its law to date because of the conflict with federal statutes.
Johannessen joined with the bill's liberal author, Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, in backing marijuana's use by patients with AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other chronic conditions, despite the Supreme Court's ruling that there is no valid medical use under federal law.
"It may have some medical use -- we need to identify it," argued Johannessen. "If (the disease) is terminal, who cares if they become addicted?"
The measure requires county health departments to process the registry applications to shield them from police, and gives the state Department of Health Services a year to determine how much marijuana patients and caregivers should be allowed to possess. The department estimates the registry would cost $2.2 million a year to maintain.