Medical Marijuana Proponents Look to Oust ‘Unsympathetic’ California D.A.s
Proponents of medicinal marijuana in Marin County are "irate" over what they call District Attorney Paula Kamena's "unsympathetic approach" to patients who use the drug to alleviate pain, and they are looking to "oust" the first-term D.A. in a May recall vote, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supporters of medicinal marijuana "vow" the vote is just the beginning of a "groundswell push around California," where proponents are considering similar initiatives against five other D.A.s in small counties. In 1996, California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes with the Proposition 215 ballot initiative, and since that time law enforcement officials have "grappled with the vagaries of the landmark medical marijuana law." Kamena said the current law is "very poorly written" and that prosecutors "all over the state" have been "screaming for some sort of consistency" on the law since it took effect (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 2/12). State Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) last week reintroduced a bill that would clarify the legal amount of marijuana allowed in a person's possession and establish a statewide registration system of medical marijuana users (Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/8).
Law enforcement officers in some parts of the state have given medical marijuana users "wide berth," while others, "cognizant that federal law still criminalizes any use of marijuana," have continued to "hit hard against all but the most compelling medical cases." Kamena's supporters say she has been "compassionate and fair" in her pursuit of marijuana users and point to her record as one of the "few" prosecutors in the state to adopt "specific guidelines" to help police distinguish legitimate patients from recreational drug users. Kamena has only taken one medical marijuana case to court in her two years in office: 10 cases remain to be heard, while 26 defendants struck plea bargains and 37 cases were dismissed. The county is "being forced" to hold an expensive recall -- $500,000 -- over a "fraction" of her trial load, she said.
But Lynette Shaw, founding director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the group that operates the county's only dispensary for medicinal marijuana patients, said the limits set by Kamena are "too strict." Kamena restricts marijuana possession to at most six mature plants and less than half a pound of dried marijuana. Kamena said that these guidelines are consistent with "personal use" and added that she does not prosecute people with conditions like AIDS or breast cancer. However, Shaw said that the guidelines have enabled police to harass patients. Medical marijuana advocates, backed by the American Medical Marijuana Association, are also considering efforts against prosecutors in Placer, El Dorado, Sonoma, Shasta and Calaveras counties, small counties where petition drives can cost "as little as $15,000." Shaw "hope[s] this recall sets a precedent," adding, "Any district attorney who tries to subvert Proposition 215 doesn't deserve to be in office." The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge to the law this year (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 2/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.