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Medical marijuana raises questions
the d, December 29, 2003

It's been more than a month now since authorities arrested Craig Canada on suspicion of cultivating marijuana.

Five weeks without his doctor-prescribed medication for a bipolar disorder and clinical depression have taken a toll.. But equally challenging has been his uncertain future. Canada calls the San Bernardino County courthouse every day to learn if the district attorney's office has levied charges. Each day, he is told the Sheriff's Department has not yet forwarded the paperwork.

"It's been hell," said Canada, 48, of Morongo Valley. "I have no idea what I am going do to. The loss of my medicine is a huge loss for me, both financially and emotionally."

Much like Canada's experience, the future of medical marijuana in California remains in doubt. As much as some advocates and the media want to hail its successes in 2003, the goal to allow sick patients who find relief by smoking the herb is far from being reached.

Senate Bill 420 becomes law next month and is intended to better define Prop. 215, the 1996 initiative granting legal protection to medical marijuana patients. Under the new law, patients who receive a doctor's recommendation are supposed to receive identification cards authorizing their marijuana use.

Although not all advocates supported the new law, most considered it to further legitimize patients possessing marijuana. But it will have little effect because the state Department of Public Health acknowledge last week that it has no money to pay for the program.

These are tenuous times for the medical marijuana community. The year saw other victories, such as the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the federal government cannot revoke the licenses of dotors who recommend marijuana to their patients.

But advocates, such as Lanny Swerdlow, the director of the Palm Springs-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, are troubled by authorities' treatment of medical marijuana patients, especially in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Swerdlow cited the recent cases of Canada, along with Martin and La Vonne Victor, who had faced felony cultivating charges that were dropped by a Riverside County judge earlier this month. The problem, Swerdlow said, is some state-employed authorities subscribe not to state law, but to federal rules that prohibit marijuana.

"It's harassment," Swerdlow said. "They just want to bust people and ruin their lives."

Dennis Peron, who formed the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club, which distributed medical marijuana to thousands of clients, including Canada during the mid-1990s, said the treatment is similar across the state.

"What we have are rogue sheriffs and rogue police who violate the law," Peron said by phone. "Who can protect us from the police?"

Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, said she did not know about the specifics of Canada's case and dismissed the harassment claims. She said the Sheriff's Department is still within the time frame of handing Canada's case to the dictrict attorney's office, although she did express some surprise that it had not yet been passed along.

Canada wants to know if he will be charged, along with when, or if, he will be given back his computer and growing equipment, which were confiscated by sheriff's deputies.

His case began Nov. 25 when a landlord-tenant dispute brought a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy to the door. Canda let the deputy see the pot plants, which he said barely provided enough buds to cover his needs. Canada pointed to a photocopied doctor's order stapled above the plants, granting him permission to smoke up to five grams per day to alleviate his medical conditions.

The deputy left but returned shortly with several other officers, who arrested Canada on suspicion of cultivating marijuana. Canada made his bail but he said he has been unable to smoke the herb since and the case has caused him financial hardship because he lives on his $1,000 per month disability checks. He spent years taking prescribed drugs, which he said provided no relief but saddled him with all of the side effects, and he has no interest in trying them again.

Peron said he plans to contact Gov. Schwarzenegger, whom he said he has know for 15 years. Schwarzenegger has said previously he supports marijuana for medical patients.

Now, Peron said he fears for an unmedicated Canada.

"Marijuana helped him," Peron said, "It kept him alive."


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