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San Diego OKs Medical Use of Marijuana

Council acts on task force report. Patients can keep up to a pound if doctors approve.

February 05, 2003|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The City Council voted to permit marijuana use for seriously ill patients Tuesday, allowing those with a doctor's recommendation to keep up to a pound of the drug for their own use.

Under the guidelines approved Tuesday, the city will permit patients and caregivers to grow marijuana plants for their own use or possess up to a pound of processed marijuana if authorized by physicians.

The original proposal before the council had recommended allowing up to three pounds of marijuana, but members decided Tuesday to cut the limit to a pound and add further restrictions, such as prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana plants outdoors.

Despite the changes, Mayor Dick Murphy, who voted against the guidelines, said the policy goes too far. "Allowing someone to possess one to two pounds of marijuana will allow unscrupulous drug dealers to hide their trafficking behind these guidelines," he said.

San Diego joins more than 15 California cities that have adopted rules governing medical marijuana use after the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, a state ballot initiative legalizing medical use of marijuana. The measure left the specifics of implementation up to localities.

Federal officials and courts have never accepted the local measures, however, and U.S. drug agents have raided several cannabis farms. This week, a medical marijuana advocate was convicted in Oakland of cultivating the drug. He faces several decades behind bars.

A city task force spent nearly two years studying the issue before drafting guidelines for legal cannabis use. The task force included San Diego police officials who were ordered to serve by the City Council.

The council's decision followed months of sharply divided public debate on the issue. Medical marijuana proponents argued that sick people who use the drug need reassurance that they will not be arrested; opponents doubted the medicinal benefits of the drug and said government-approved marijuana use sends a mixed message that undermines drug prevention efforts, especially those aimed at children. Others said marijuana grown for medicinal use could be sold illegally to others.

The contentiousness was repeated Tuesday, as dozens of speakers addressed the council, which set aside its entire day for the issue and debated the subject well into the evening.

Several parents told the lawmakers that their children's lives had been destroyed by marijuana use, prompting chuckles and snickers from some medical marijuana advocates in the audience.

Early in the meeting, Murphy warned audience members to refrain from laughing at others.

San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano told the council that he "supports the compassionate use of marijuana," but said that he opposed the task force's recommendations.

Bejarano said officers already use their judgment in allowing medical marijuana use on a case-by-case basis.

Juliana Humphrey, the deputy public defender who chaired the task force, said guidelines were needed to give patients a "safe harbor" from prosecution.

The guidelines, she said, would "eliminate fear and mistrust and enhance respect for law enforcement."

Deputy Mayor Ralph Inzunza said the vote is another sign that San Diego -- for decades a conservative Republican stronghold -- has become a more liberal city.

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