Before the Medical Marijuana Initiative, aka Proposition 215, passed in 1996, it was possible to note a person curled into a paranoid, catatonic ball, to turn to one's companion, and to say, "Look at the pothead; now there's a lame-o for you," and go on about one's business.
Now, though, when one sees a teenager staring endlessly at a light bulb, it's necessary to say, "Look at the poor, dear, nauseated, hangnail sufferer. Thankfully, there are drug pushers to ease his pain."
The underlying lie here -- that the medical marijuana "movement" is anything more than a bale of hokum meant to give drug profiteers broader reign -- may seem like a harmless one. But facile, harmless-seeming lies, when elevated into the realm of policy debate, beget more lies, which beget impunity, which begets corruption.
These facts came swirling through my brain like acrid smoke last week as I sat in a Marin hotel conference room witnessing District Attorney Paula Kamena take the ridiculous, degrading, yet sadly necessary step of campaigning against a recall initiative. Her offense: bringing a single "medical" marijuana case to trial out of the 73 such arrests by Marin law enforcement officers during the past two years. Following the passage of Prop. 215, Kamena had sought to find middle ground between voters' wish to allow legitimate patients to use marijuana as a medicine, and her oath as district attorney to uphold the law that makes marijuana possession a crime. For this she became the first of six district attorneys now targeted, statewide, for removal in recall petition drives sponsored by pot activists who hope to install officials committed to allowing residents to cultivate and smoke marijuana unfettered.
One needn't be as prejudiced against the doobied classes as I am to consider this anti-DA pogrom a threat to justice everywhere, and a menace to the fundaments of egalitarianism and democracy. It's possible to hold the personal belief that marijuana should be legalized, yet still be scared walleyed at the idea that well-financed groups might politically extort law enforcement officials into refusing to enforce controversial laws. America's been down that unseemly road before, with shameful results.
Federal troops had to be sent to Arkansas to enforce school desegregation, because local officials wouldn't. Southern Californians launched recall drives against judges who upheld the busing of students as a way of desegregating schools, even though the law of the land allowed busing as a remedy to entrenched discrimination.
We live in a democracy with state and federal legislatures constituted expressly to allow citizens to choose which laws society will live by. We have criminal justice systems whose purpose, ideally, is to ensure those laws are implemented evenly and fairly.
Most Californians -- or, at least, most Californians who smoke high-grade reefer in their Marin County homes -- rarely have to consider the broader ramifications of law enforcement that sways to the winds of politics. Sadly, people on much of the rest of the planet do; political classes the world over enjoy such luxuries as smuggling, larceny, and the killing of political enemies with impunity. America's not a corrupt dictatorship yet. But if localized political pressure can be used to nullify drug laws here, it can certainly nullify laws designed to protect ethnic minorities, or endangered species, or public lands.
Behind the effort to recall Paula Kamena is the vague and misleading language of Prop. 215, which puts law enforcement in a devilish quandary. The proposition grants patient status to sufferers of "any illness for which marijuana provides relief," a list potentially including boredom and fear of facing one's personal problems/addictive tendencies, along with such medically recognized uses as relief from glaucoma and AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Federal law, meanwhile, still considers all marijuana, medical or no, to be contraband and subject to seizure. State law likewise prohibits marijuana possession; Proposition 215 merely allows users the "medicinal use" defense at trial.
Given the ambiguities of the law on marijuana, enforcement philosophy has varied widely from county to California county, with some jurisdictions giving growers and dealers a free pass, and others making marijuana arrests, and then letting the medical-vs.-nonmedical issue sort itself out at trial. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to help untangle this mess when it hears legal challenges to the proposition later this year.
Kamena, as it happens, has been one of California's most reasonable officials in seeking to strike a fair approach to Prop. 215's contradictions. She established specific guidelines for prosecuting marijuana cases, including a county certification process permitting legitimate patients to cultivate and possess medical marijuana.
But the medical marijuana folk, who, as far as I can tell, are largely indistinguishable from ordinary marijuana folk, want more than that. Like other practitioners of the Politics of Base Urges -- gun nuts, death penalty advocates, etc. -- the dope activists have used lies and political extortion to further their goals.
A year ago, Kamena became the target of a group of family law litigants who had mounted a failed drive to recall three judges for allegedly overstepping their authority. Carol Mardeusz, who had been convicted by a jury of falsifying records in an effort to steal custody of her child, included Kamena as a late-hour addition to the recall list, apparently because Kamena's office was responsible for prosecuting her. The petition drives against the judges fizzled, but the anti-Kamena campaign took off when reefer advocates adopted it as a possible way to push Marin County to stop enforcing marijuana laws. The medical marijuana proponents gathered $15,000 in secret donations, hired signature gatherers, and launched a publicity campaign that characterized Kamena as an opponent of medical marijuana, a charge Kamena denies.
The petition itself -- still a relic of Mardeusz's all but forgotten family-court gripes -- made no mention of marijuana.