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Drug Policy Conference Picketed

Marijuana: Group backing medicinal use of cannabis demonstrates near the Reagan library, where a White House official was speaking.


SIMI VALLEY — Two dozen protesters who support the medicinal use of marijuana picketed a Friday event featuring White House drug chief Barry R. McCaffrey.

McCaffrey appeared at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum during a drug policy conference called "Substance Abuse in the 21st Century: Positioning the Nation for Progress."

On Friday morning, protesters from the Ventura County Alliance for Marijuana Patients waved signs at passersby at the base of the hill below the library.

The group timed its protest to take place during the keynote speeches, including one by McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The nation's war on drugs places far too much emphasis on jail and not enough on education, said Andrea Nagy, organizer of the protest and a Ventura County marijuana activist.

"It causes more harm to arrest people and incarcerate them than the drugs themselves," said Nagy, a Thousand Oaks resident.

Simi Valley resident Rex Dean Jones, 64, said he uses marijuana to ease the pain of his neuropathy. It helps with his migraines and lowers his blood pressure, he said.

Jones, who attended the three-day conference, is suing the Simi Valley Police Department after officers arrested him in May 1998 and seized marijuana plants Jones was growing for medicinal use. Charges against him later were dropped.

"I think I have a God-given right to any alternative herbs if it will benefit me," Jones said.

Local law enforcement agencies and proponents of medicinal marijuana use have butted heads since 1996, when California voters approved the medicinal use of marijuana with Proposition 215.

Ventura County prosecutors have said the issue may not be resolved until action is taken at the state level but that they will look over a proposal from marijuana advocates that would establish guidelines for Ventura County.

Jones said he was glad to pay to attend the event to hear what McCaffrey and a slew of other drug experts had to say. But the issue of medicinal marijuana use was barely addressed, he said.

McCaffrey told reporters after his keynote speech that research into substances in the cannabis family makes sense, but using marijuana can be dangerous.

"It makes you stoned," McCaffrey said. "Most people with prostate cancer don't want to be stoned. They want pain relieved."

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Center for Public Affairs sponsored the conference.

Other speakers included William Safire, William Bennett and James Burke, chairman of Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

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