By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was a solution designed to cover all bases. "In most situations, patients want the registry because they want to avoid arrest," says Bill Zimmerman, a task force member and executive director of Americans for Medical Rights, the advocacy group that coordinated the 215 campaign and five other state med-mar initiatives (Alaska and Oregon currently have statewide registries, and one is under consideration in Washington state). "As it happens, the cops also want the registry because they want to be able to tell in the field who’s a legitimate patient."
But already, the coalition backing 848 is beginning to splinter. Some law-enforcement authorities have serious problems with the registration system, which is voluntary and allows smoking anywhere cigarettes are permitted (except within 1,000 feet of a school or while driving a car). "Unless it becomes some kind of compulsory reporting by doctors so that we know who is entitled to medicinal marijuana and that it be [smoked] discreetly — not in open places — it’s not gonna have the governor’s endorsement," says a highly placed source in Sacramento who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
To assuage law enforcement and the governor, five amendments have been drafted, including a ban on smoking in public and a mandatory requirement that doctors notify the health department "that a qualified patient has a serious medical condition for which the use of medical marijuana is appropriate."
That mandatory provision is now drawing fire from med-mar advocates. "I think that amendment is a misuse of the health department, because there’s no public-health purpose to that reporting — it’s for legal purposes so that police can trace patients to see if they are bona fide users," says Dr. Jane Marmor, the California Medical Association’s med-mar point person and a member of Lockyer’s committee. "I suspect that health officers and the CMA will not support this bill with that in it."
Nor is there any guarantee that Davis would respond favorably. "Let’s see what the amendments look like, but the governor is not inclined to support something like this," says Bustamante. Adds Hilary McLean, Davis’ deputy press secretary, "Until it’s in front of him we can never say it’s final, but I think it’s unlikely that he would sign it."
Lost in the political wrangling and ideological perspectives is the desperate medical raison d’être that informs this issue. Tim Weltz is a 38-year-old terminal-lymphoma patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation who’s been raided and had his medicine confiscated twice in one year. The last visit by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was on June 2. Detective Michael Wirz explained that his officers can’t determine whether a patient is legitimate or not, nor can they "allow release of a person that violates a law based on him giving us a note saying it’s okay." Wirz admitted that when his deputies entered Weltz’s residence, the dying man was hooked up to an intravenous morphine drip, that a home health-care worker was present and that Weltz presented his doctor’s letter as prescribed under 215.
Weltz is currently bedridden and "has very few days left," according to his wife, Brenda. "The patients are not the ones who get thought of," she says. "There’s nothing more traumatic than watching somebody die and knowing there’s things out there which can help them eat and feel a little better. Unfortunately the people in politics don’t seem to be human." Her husband had a question for the governor: "I’d like to look Governor Davis right in the eye and ask him, ‘If it was your family member or you, would you still hold the same position?’"