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August 1996 Cannabis News



Sunday 4th August


The stakes were raised in the fight to make medical cannabis legally available in California, when the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was raided by state narcotics agents. The club, which supplies cannabis to an estimated 11,000 patients across the bay area, hasnít been busted before because it has the unofficial support of the city authorities. This bust was ordered and carried out by state authorities, without the co-operation of the local police or District Attorney. The bust is being seen as a politically-motivated attempt to influence Novemberís medical cannabis ballot, Proposition 215.
The club, the oldest and largest of approximately 30 underground clubs across the US, was opened in 1991 by long-time cannabis and gay activist Dennis Peron. In 1994 it moved from a discrete loft in Haight-Ashbury to a four-floor building with a store-front on Market Street. The clubís volunteer staff were left shaken and angry by the bust. "I am outraged," said one, "any 15-year- old kid can buy marijuana on the street in 15 minutes, yet people who are sick and in the hospital cannot."
The raid began at 7:30 a.m., when no customers were inside, and lasted for five hours. Equipped with a search warrant, nearly 100 armed agents broke down the club's front door and seized truckloads of evidence, including medical records, computers, 40 pounds of marijuana, some documents pertaining to Proposition 215, and an undisclosed amount of cash. Five other locations associated with the club personnel were also raided. No arrests were made, but charges may be filed against some of the club's organisers at a later date.
The following day a Superior Court Judge granted a temporary injunction to close the club. Narcotics officials testified that cannabis had been sold to undercover officers for non-medical purposes, yet presented no evidence of this. However 800 demonstrators at a candlelit march that evening were told that the club would remain the base for the state-wide medical cannabis campaign. "Judge Cahill ordered the club closed, but you cannot close the spirit of the club," announced Dennis Peron.
Many San Francisco leaders expressed both shock and outrage at the actions of the state narcotics officers. District Attorney Hallinan denounced the raid as a political act by state Attorney General Lungren, who is an outspoken opponent of Proposition 215. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessy said that he will refuse to enforce the injunction and Mayor Willie Brown stated that he was "dismayed by the Gestapo tactics". The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, led by Tom Ammiano, called on the city Health Department to provide emergency medical cannabis. "I feel really angry at the way they did it," Ammiano told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's the worst kind of political opportunism. We could have worked with them. Instead, they chose these storm-trooper tactics."
The raid followed a two year undercover operation by the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. They said that the purpose of the raid was to gather evidence of non-medical sales. The Bureau released a video to the media, of Dennis Peron selling marijuana to an undercover agent, for what were alleged to be non-medical purposes. The agent was posing as an AIDS patient who wished to provide marijuana to fellow patients in a neighbouring county.

Wednesday 14th August


The Key West Cannabis Buyers Club in Florida has been raided and shut down. Police sparked a wave of citizen outrage when Special Operations detectives raided the club and arrested two people, including club founder Zvi Baranoff. Both individuals were charged with possession of felony amounts of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Key West club serviced approximately 90 patients and has existed for one year. It is one of an estimated 30 underground clubs throughout the United States that distributes marijuana as a medicine to seriously ill patients who possess a doctor's recommendation.
"It seems like shabby treatment of someone who's trying to do something good," a former Key West city commissioner told the Key West Citizen. "Where's the compassion? These people were dispensing medicine to people who can't eat, sleep, or hold food in their stomachs. Itís an inhumane witch hunt." Detective John Elmore defended the raid by saying that police have no choice but to enforce the law. Elmore further alleged that marijuana was sold to some individuals who did not suffer from valid medical illnesses.
Local citizens appeared to be strongly supportive of the club and many club members voiced their discontent to the local media. "We're just trying to extend our lives a little bit," said one HIV-positive club member. "Maybe these officers should attend every funeral, or read the newspaper which would be stuffed with obituaries" if we didn't have underground access to medical marijuana.
The Key West bust comes on the heels of a raid by California state narcotics agents last Sunday on the 11,000 member San Francisco Cannabis Buyers' Club. No arrests have yet to be made in connection with the raid, but a temporary injunction has been granted to keep the club closed. The decision by state Attorney General Dan Lungren to order the bust has outraged many members of the San Francisco community -- including Mayor Willie Brown, Sheriff Michael Hennessey, District Attorney Terence Hallinan, former Police Commissioner Jo Daly, and several members of the city's Board of Supervisors -- and cast harsh criticism upon state politicians and law enforcement.

Friday 16th August


Teenage drug use is at an all-time high in Scotland, according to a new survey, which found that the majority of 15 and 16-year olds had used drugs. Rates of drug use were consistently higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK. Almost all the children had drunk alcohol, two-thirds had smoked cigarettes and over half had used cannabis.
Dr Patrick Miller, who carried out the survey said it was a "complete surprise" that Scottish figures were higher than the rest of the UK. 14% of Scottish males and 10 % of females had used ecstasy, compared with 8.5 % and 7 % in England. 16% of male Scots had used tranquillisers such as temazepam, compared with only 5 % in the rest of the UK. Heroin had been used by 2.5 % of Scots and 1.7 % in England. Neither Dr Miller or the Scottish Office could offer any reason why more Scots used each drug.
The study was conducted by Edinburgh Universityís Alcohol Research Group. Over 7000 pupils at both state and private schools throughout the UK completed a questionnaire. The study is part of a wider European survey which is due to report in January, and will reveal differences in the smoking, drinking and drug taking habits of young people in 26 European countries.
David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said that the high rates of usage were not surprising given the extent of recreational use. He said he supported pragmatic responses to the problem, which included providing young people with credible information about drugs. He warned against an overreaction against illicit drugs when legalised substances cause greater problems. "Alcohol is still the main drug of use among people of that age and it causes more problems." The survey found that half the pupils had had more than five drinks in one session in the 30 days prior to the survey.
The Scottish Office said it no doubts about the seriousness of the problem. "That is why the Secretary of State attaches such importance to the fight against drugs and why he initiated the Scotland Against Drugs campaign. We have strategies in place to try and do something about it."

Friday 23rd August


A Skye MS sufferer has had possession charges dropped, because the prosecutor decided it was "not in the public interest" to maintain proceedings. The ruling by the procurator fiscal for Portree, John Bamber, has reopened the debate on medical cannabis in Scotland.
Mark Westwell, 35, has suffered from multiple sclerosis since 1987 and started taking cannabis to relieve pain and muscle spasms after his condition deteriorated early in 1994. His GP said that on a scale from zero to 10 the cannabis reduced the pain level suffered by Mr Westwell from 8 to 1. He was charged with possession after police discovered cannabis at his house at Balmaquien, near Uig, last September. His solicitor, Duncan Burd, wrote to the fiscal enclosing a doctor's report detailing Westwell's symtoms. In the letter Burd said his client's ability to appear in court would be affected by his condition and asked for a motion to be put forward allowing parts of the trial to be conducted in his absence. But the fiscal replied saying that he intended to drop the case completely.
Mr Burd told the Press and Journal he was not surprised by the fiscal's decision, and added: "This case highlights the difficulties that a number of disabled people find when illegal substances are their only relief. There appears to be a substantial argument for, at least, decriminalisation of cannabis, albeit under medical licence. There is quite a lot of medical research to support the benefits of cannabis for MS sufferers but I think there should be proper trials."
Cannabis expert Dr Roger Pertwee, a biomedical researcher at Aberdeen University, also said he supported the decriminalisation in certain medical cases: "I would rather see cannabis given under medical supervision instead of people going to a dealer," Initial research carried out by his team had shown that many MS sufferers were using cannabis to combat the pain of the disease and muscle stiffness associated with it, he told the Press and Journal.
David Harrison, of the MS society, said that while the organisation could not endorse anything illegal, scientific trials should be carried out to establish whether the use of cannabis had potential benefits for sufferers. Ross, Cromarty and Skye MP Charles Kennedy said: "There are a number of debilitating conditions where it would be sensible to have a medical review to find out if medical and legal opinion would favour a broadening of the list of prescribable drugs."

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