When federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested medical marijuana activist Steve McWilliams at his Normal Heights home last Friday, we can only assume that the DEA's message was that the feds plan to thwart California's Prop. 215 law at every turn.
However, the message received, at least by this newspaper, is that the DEA is an agency willing to waste countless taxpayer dollars in a backward campaign that stands between hundreds of thousands of sick citizens and desperately needed pain relief. And it's all in the name of a disastrous, expensive war on a relatively benign drug.
Now McWilliams, 48 years old and the sufferer of chronic severe headaches resulting from a traffic accident, faces a mandatory five years in prison for growing marijuana. If convicted, he would become another one in a huge population of small-scale, nonviolent drug-law offenders who are clogging a state prison system that is bursting at the seams, thanks to this ongoing, demented war.
The federal government, under the watch of Attorney General John Ashcroft and DEA Director Asa Hutchinson, has recently stepped up raids of private medical marijuana gardens. In Northern California, two lawsuits have been filed in response during the last few weeks, arguing that the DEA's raids and subsequent prosecutions of growers are unconstitutional.
Clearly, the feds are attempting to make an example of McWilliams, a high-profile activist who runs a medical-marijuana club called Shelter From the Storm just of Adams Avenue in Normal Heights, where ill people who have doctors' recommendations can smoke marijuana in a safe and supportive environment. In a way, it's all going according to script-some would say McWilliams has dared authorities by handing out medicinal marijuana on the steps of City Hall in an effort to publicize the need for San Diego to create a program under which sick folks can lawfully smoke marijuana.
CityBeat could not be more firmly behind McWilliams and people like him up and down California. His arrest underscores the need for the federal government to reconcile its drug laws with state medical-marijuana statutes. Voters in California said overwhelmingly back in 1996 that people with a medical need should be able to smoke marijuana to relieve symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma and to help them cope with chronic pain. A handful of other states have since followed suit.
What we'd like to see is a federal reclassification of marijuana, which is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug, so that doctors can legally prescribe it.
We applaud San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins for her immediate, sharp criticism of the DEA-she clearly understands the folly of targeting harmless medical marijuana growers and users when far more dangerous drugs are wreaking havoc on the populace. Atkins showed guts by calling McWilliams a “hero” to many sufferers of illness and pain. It's a shame her colleagues haven't yet joined her in her public stance against his arrest.
They can, however, act in a much more meaningful way by quickly finalizing a program that allows for the distribution of medical-marijuana identification cards. They should ignore a recent resolution by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors opposing the ID card program, which, it should be noted, showed that supervisors are far more interested in ideological posturing than participating in a progressive public health project. The city must continue to stand behind Prop. 215 and stand up to the federal government and its backward-thinking marijuana policies.