The Los Angeles Times
Listen Up, Washington,
the People Have Spoken.
State voters approved the use of medicinal marijuana.
The feds should honor that.
By: JOHN VASCONCELLOS
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
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
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
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
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