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Gates Joins in Marijuana Strategy Meeting

Law: Officials confer in capital on how to deal with Prop. 215, similar measure in Arizona. DEA chief has no answers.

November 16, 1996|BARBARA FERRY | STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates met here Thursday with top federal officials to plan a strategy for dealing with California's new medical marijuana law and a similar Arizona initiative approved by voters last week.

Gates and other participants at the closed-door meeting, including Drug Enforcement Administration chief Thomas Constantine and Director Gen. Barry McCaffrey of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, discussed the possibilities of amending or overturning the new laws.

Gates campaigned against Proposition 215, which allows doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with cancer and other illnesses. He said the passage of the referendum has put local law enforcement agencies in a quandary over how to enforce anti-drug laws.

"We're in a very murky situation in California," Gates told the federal officials. "We need to get answers quick."

Among the questions is whether law enforcement officers could be held liable for confiscating marijuana if the owner says it was intended for medicinal use, Gates said.

Also, he said, "we might see a strong reluctance to go after California marijuana growers without the specific support" of federal agents.

But the DEA's Constantine said he and other federal officials also were stumped about what immediate actions should be taken.

"You're asking a lot of questions, and frankly, I don't have the answers," he said.

Participants, who were unanimous in their opposition to legalized marijuana use, debated possibilities for overturning the two laws through either a federal legal challenge or a second state referendum, with a well-funded campaign.

"We ran a fairly effective grass-roots campaign without any money," Gates said. "It's clear that money would have made the difference."

Robert Kampia of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied for both the California and Arizona propositions, criticized the meeting, saying federal officials were attempting to undermine the will of voters.

"This is a decision that should be between doctors and seriously ill patients," Kampia said.

At a news conference after the meeting, McCaffrey said federal and local officials would continue to discuss strategies for providing a "prudent, balanced and appropriate" response to the new laws.

"We have no commitments, no grand plans, and no schedule," he said.

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