The Los Angeles Times

Listen Up, Washington, the People Have Spoken.

State voters approved the use of medicinal marijuana.

The feds should honor that.


State Sen. John Vasconcellos is a Democrat from the Silicon Valley

February 25, 1999

What kind of a government carries on a crusade against the will of its voters, favors pain and even death for some of its people?

From a president still distancing himself from youthful experimentation with marijuana, a drug czar who has effectively declared war on American citizens and a Congress that forbids the counting of votes on a Washington, D.C., ballot initiative on medical marijuana (sure to pass), our federal government continues to bungle the issue of medical marijuana.

There is an utter disregard of states' rights, to try to silence the proponents of medical marijuana, to threaten the integrity and livelihood of California physicians and, ultimately, to engage in a campaign against the health and care of sick and dying Californians.

In November 1996, 56% of California voters passed Proposition 215, which allows the medicinal use of marijuana--a critical treatment and care option for sick and dying patients. The voters declared they want their relationship with their physician (rather than the government) be the arbiter of their health and healing modalities.

In good faith, California local government and law enforcement leaders have spent the past two years working with patients, physicians and providers of medicinal marijuana to ensure responsible, compassionate implementation of Proposition 215.

Yet our federal government has assumed it knows best what's good for our people. It has engaged in activities that demonstrate an outrageous disregard for the will of our California voters (and since November, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Alaska voters as well).

How ironic that Bill Clinton--who won our state by a smaller margin than voters approved Proposition 215--has the temerity to send federal law enforcement into our state to contravene the decision of our citizens.

Until the beginning of this year, our state and federal governments colluded to thwart the voters' mandate. Former California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren publicly vowed to respect the voters' decision, yet then proceeded to take every action he could to ensure that Proposition 215 could not be safely implemented. To the extent he refrained from overtly violating our voters' mandate, he relied on the feds to do his dirty work.

Together, they closed most of the providers of medical marijuana in California, threw several legitimate caregivers in jail and currently are preventing a seriously sick defendant--author Peter McWilliams, now in failing health as a result--from access to medicinal marijuana.

Fortunately, California has begun, since the inauguration of a new attorney general and governor in January, to look more respectfully upon the will of our people.

Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has kickstarted efforts to implement the voters' wishes regarding medical marijuana. He's convened a statewide task force of all key stakeholders, naming Republican Santa Clara County Dist. Atty. George Kennedy and me to co-chair it. Our charge is to find ways to make Proposition 215 work responsibly.

Sadly, our charge will be largely Sisyphean as long as the federal government does not change its position or have its position changed by more sympathetic federal courts.

Until Washington allows marijuana to be prescribed under the controls applied to other drugs like morphine and cocaine, its benefits will be available to those willing to risk greater harm by getting their medicine from street pushers.

A tidal wave of support for medicinal marijuana has begun in the Western United States. The future of many federal officials will depend, in large part, on whether they ride that wave into a compassionate future or, standing in the way, are rendered irrelevant by the voters.

It is now incumbent on Californians to convince the federal government to abide by our will, rather than have Big Brother consigning them to pain and even death.