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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mayor Ed Lee Finally Breaks Silence on Medical Marijuana

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge And San Francisco thanks you, Mr. Mayor
  • And San Francisco thanks you, Mr. Mayor

"If you get Ed Lee on record about medical marijuana," more than one well-connected San Francisco politico has told us, "you deserve a medal."

Our best efforts were all deflected, including a situation when we physically blocked Mayor Lee's path to his hybrid Mayoralmobile and still did not win a comment. So accolades are due to Americans for Safe Access, which circulated a three-paragraph statement released by Mayor Ed Lee's office on Friday.

The mayor has stood silent while the federal Justice Department shut down five city-licensed dispensaries and while San Francisco's health department paused and unpaused its licensing program, so the words from Lee -- one of the lone members of the city family absent from an April 3 pro-marijuana rally on the City Hall steps -- have been a long time coming.

Firebrand it isn't. The strongest words are "important", "concerned", and "agree," and no action of any kind is promised or even recommended. But that such a tepid statement would be so welcomed is a signal of how lukewarm our mustachioed mayor has been on marijuana -- and how delicate the former city administrator's relationship is with the medical marijuana movement.

It's unclear why Lee took his time to sound off. Medical marijuana isn't exactly controversial in San Francisco: The city had dispensaries long before the 1996 Compassionate Use Act passed. It was also one of first cities in California to license dispensaries -- a program that began in 2005. In contrast, Lee's predecessor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, was loud and proud in his support for medical cannabis.

In 2007, Newsom once went as far as to write a letter to Congress decrying raids. Advocates have asked Mayor Lee to similarly use his bully pulpit to ask San Francisco's Congressional delegation -- like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, herself a former mayor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- to step in and find out why President Barack Obama is shutting down taxpaying cannabis dispensaries that are legal in both the city and the state, but still violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.

To date, Lee has not done that (not as far as we know; the Mayor's press office did not respond to a request seeking an answer to that question). Nor has he done any of the actions demanded/begged by Americans for Safe Access and the coalition of marijuana activists and dispensaries called San Francisco United, such as joining in on the petition to reschedule marijuana, joining in on ASA's lawsuit against the Justice Department, or taking steps to make it easier for shuttered dispensaries that obeyed all local laws to be reopened.

Instead, in a statement not released to the press, Lee expressed his concern, and cited no fewer than three reasons as to why he is "concerned" and why medical pot is "legitimate."

"It is important that San Franciscans who need medicinal cannabis can have safe access to it - there are oncology patients, HIV/AIDS patients, and people with debilitating pain who rely on this medicine to treat their conditions. Public Health Director Barbara Garcia continually advises me that legitimate use by people with certain medical conditions is an effective way to treat pain and ease end-of-life suffering.

And since 1996, when Proposition 215 first passed, the State of California and our City have reaffirmed many times over our support of legitimate medicinal use for people with serious illness. That's why I am concerned about recent federal actions targeting duly permitted Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries, actions that aim to limit our citizens' ability to have safe access to the medicine they need.

Time and time again, the President of the United States has made it clear that the Justice Department has more important priorities than working to prevent patients from accessing this medicine. As long as San Francisco's dispensaries and patients are operating within the guidelines set by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2008, I agree with our current Attorney General Kamala Harris that raids should not occur. She has said that 'an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California.'"
And that was it. But "it was more than I thought we would get," said one dispensary operator, who added that activists sat on the floor outside Lee's office on Friday until the mayor's chief of staff, Steve Kawa, came out to see them.

"I'm glad Mayor Lee has taken a stand to support and protect safe access in San Francisco," said David Goldman, one of the core members of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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