Gathering to mark 10 years of legalized medical pot use

Times Staff Writer

With pomp and a bit of pot-inspired pageantry, the battle-tested veterans of California’s medical marijuana movement will come together this weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Proposition 215, the milestone ballot measure that redefined cannabis as medicine.

Those planning to gather today at the Gay Community Center in San Francisco include former cannabis club impresario and Proposition 215 author Dennis Peron, celebrated medical marijuana physician Dr. Tod Mikuriya and former San Francisco Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan.

On Nov. 5, 1996, 56% of the California electorate voted to approve the ballot measure, igniting a national controversy and putting the state squarely at odds with the federal government’s blanket prohibition on pot.

The last decade has seen dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries raided by federal drug agents and scores of patients arrested. Several disputes over the California law landed on the U.S. Supreme Court’s doorstep, most recently with a decision last year upholding prosecutions of patients in federal court.

Despite unwavering federal resistance, 10 other states followed California in approving medical marijuana measures. Voters in South Dakota are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether they want to join the club.


The decade also saw a proliferation of cannabis dispensaries in the Golden State. By some counts, California has more than 250 clinics and distribution networks and 200,000 patients.

There has been backlash. Although two dozen cities and seven counties -- including Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara -- have approved regulations allowing dispensaries, three times as many municipalities have passed moratoriums or banned cannabis clubs.

In addition, three counties -- San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced -- sued the state, questioning the constitutionality of a mandate that conflicts with federal law. A hearing is scheduled for this month.

Many physicians have shied away from recommending marijuana to their patients, despite a pivotal federal court victory upholding doctor-patient privacy rights. More than two dozen cannabis specialists have recommended the drug, authorizing marijuana for thousands of patients suffering a variety of ills, including AIDS wasting, muscle aches and depression -- in some cases prompting criticism and professional sanctions.

Fears of rising recreational use among teenagers were unfounded, with rates declining over the decade.

A nationwide Gallup poll a year ago found that 78% of Americans supported allowing doctors to prescribe pot.

Meanwhile, there is movement for even greater legalization of the plant.

On Tuesday, the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica will vote on initiatives aimed at eliminating criminal penalties for adult recreational use of cannabis. Two states -- Nevada and Colorado -- will vote on proposals to legalize adult marijuana use entirely.

Ten years after Proposition 215, “a second marijuana reform shockwave may be in the making,” said Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.