Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Marijuana Still Divides California

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Marijuana Still Divides California

Article excerpt

Despite renewed efforts to shut down the nation's most famous medicinal marijuana club, a gold stenciled pot leaf remains boldly emblazoned across its store front faade and traffic is as brisk as ever.

Upstairs, patrons with a physicians' recommendation buy various grades of marijuana cigarettes, or baked goods, and consume them in a setting that's more like a disco than a doctor's office.

The mood is relaxed and confident, seasoned by months of legal challenge that show no sign of letting up. Last week, a California bid to close the club immediately was denied, but a full hearing is slated for June. As inconclusive as the cat-and-mouse game has been, many experts say the battle made a definitive point: America remains unable to have an adult conversation about marijuana. "Marijuana sits on the San Andreas fault of contemporary American culture," says Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington. "It represents conflict between parents and children, the establishment versus the anti- establishment, Democrats and Republicans and traditional values as opposed to the values of the 1960s." All of that has prevented development of a coherent policy, he says. It's been 18 months since California voters nudged the door open to easier marijuana use, a move that has spawned well-financed efforts to do the same in several other states. Yet questions about marijuana's medical role and whether an expansion of such usage would worsen the nation's overall drug problem, particularly among teens, remain more in the realm of partisan polemics than in rational consideration, say some analysts. Instead, what the public sees is a protracted, costly public fight between pot clubs and government that is more about scoring points than clarifying issues, says Mark Kleiman, a drug-policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles. He criticizes pot clubs like the one in San Francisco for goading government into action with activity not sanctioned by the California initiative. He's just as harsh on state and federal authorities, who he says have misrepresented marijuana's medical value and discouraged research that might provide some facts. Public opinion and government policy seem somewhat at odds. While 75 percent of Americans oppose legalization of marijuana for personal use, nearly 70 percent say it should be permissible for medical purposes. Voter sanction In 1996, 56 percent of Californians voted to allow possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical uses. That same year, 65 percent Arizona voters passed an even broader measure, though it was later overturned by the state legislature. But the Clinton administration and others know that pot is the most commonly used illegal drug in the US, and they are concerned that anything that eases its availability to any segment of the population will encourage broader use. …

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