'It's Medicinal' Vies against 'It's Illegal' ; California Has Become the Epicenter of a States vs. Feds Battle over Marijuana Use

Article excerpt

At the "Sixties Paraphernalia" shop on Victory Blvd. here, you can glimpse the past of US marijuana use - hash pipes, "bongs," cigarette papers - and catch an earful about its future.

"The federal government is still stuck in the pre-Beatles days of 'reefer madness,' " says Skip Stanley, a bearded biker who also holds a graduate degree in sociology. He cites a recent poll showing nearly 80 percent support for medicinal marijuana use, and notes nine states have approved such use. "States are trying to move ahead with ways of using this plant to alleviate suffering but the feds still think of users as just Dead-heads and zombies."

The issue of medicinal "pot" is boiling over again. The recent conviction in federal court of an Oakland man for marijuana distribution is one sign, as are federal crackdowns on medical cannabis clubs across the Golden State. State lawmakers from Sacramento to the US Capitol are preparing laws and resolutions to clarify existing laws in California and, by extension, eight others with medical marijuana statutes.

The fight represents a states-rights battle that goes beyond the symbolism of Berkeley versus the Bush administration. The clash pits states rights to define and control criminal issues against the federal government's authority under the Constitution to control the shipment and trafficking of illegal substances.

"Medical marijuana may prove to be the ultimate confrontation of state's rights vs. federalism in America," says Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. "The question is whether or not states can take their own course on issues of novel and independent social experimentation."

Many in California want the answer to be yes. California congressman Sam Farr is introducing legislation within weeks that would create two legal categories of marijuana - medical and criminal. The legislation is intended to allow individuals who can prove they possess or cultivate the plant for medical use only to use that as a defense in a federal trial. …

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