July 24, 2002

San Francisco Puts Growing Medicinal Marijuana on the Ballot


SAN FRANCISCO, July 23 The city that helped create the proposition in 1996 that made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana may start growing its own.

In a move toward making San Francisco the first city to defy openly the federal ban on growing marijuana for any reason, the Board of Supervisors approved a ballot measure on Monday that would explore growing marijuana on public property as a way around the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration's continual closing of medical marijuana clubs.

The measure was drafted by Supervisor Mark Leno, a Democratic candidate for the State Assembly who said he was fed up watching federal agents shut clubs that dispense marijuana for seriously ill and dying people.

"Our clubs have been continuously intimidated and assaulted," Mr. Leno said, adding that one club had closed because of fear of federal prosecution.

If voters pass the measure on Nov. 5, the supervisors would be able to explore the hows and wheres of growing marijuana. Mr. Leno suggested that vacant city property might be used and that the program could be agricultural job training for the unemployed.

Federal authorities were not amused. "Unless Congress changes the law and makes marijuana a legal substance, then we have to do our job and enforce the law," said a spokesman for the regional office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The measure has a strong chance of passing. San Francisco has long been in the forefront of expanding medical marijuana rights. The district attorney has made the issue a chief cause. The chief of the Public Health Department has prescribed marijuana for AIDS patients to ease side effects of medications, and medical marijuana clubs have openly operated in residential neighborhoods without problems.

Last year, the city declared itself a sanctuary for the use, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, a symbolic defiance of an expected federal crackdown. The state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, who has supported the state's medical marijuana law, has left its use to local jurisdictions. A spokeswoman suggested that Mr. Lockyer would do the same if San Francisco began growing medicinal marijuana.

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