On Wednesday night Steve and Gayle Francis took time out of their busy schedule to speak with members of Hope Unlimited, a local support group for medical cannabis patients. Gayle spoke to the group about her work in healthcare and her website www.KeepComingBack.com, a place for those in recovery to connect and share stories. Steve spoke to the group about how his legislative and business experience in the Southwest led him to his candidacy for mayor of San Diego.
After listening intently to his outline for change at City Hall, Hope Unlimited founder Aaron Klein opened the floor for questions. One Hope member questioned why medical cannabis dispensaries are free to operate and generate sales tax revenue in LA and Orange counties while San Diego uses police resources to shut down local dispensaries and destroy any potential revenue? Mr. Francis did not have an immediate answer to this question, but expressed an interest in learning more.
He was also asked for his stance on the current case “San Diego County et al vs. San Diego NORML et al.” The suit began when San Diego County sued the State refusing to implement the California Department of Health Services Card Registry Program. The County lost their case and filed an appeal in February of 2007, which is ongoing. Mr. Francis stated it was “up to government to figure it out” and agreed that it placed the patients in a difficult position to have “two entities going at each other.”
One Hope member questioned why San Diego law enforcement and patients are being forced to operate in this legal grey zone, “Why are Sheriff’s Deputies able to enter a residence with weapons drawn to confiscate medical cannabis without charges being laid?” he asked. Mr. Francis agreed that the current situation “creates confusion” and “creates distress”. He continued, saying “it shouldn’t be this way” and if elected pledged “to have the police chief speak with the group” to re-establish the dialog on medical cannabis in San Diego.
History of Medical Marijuana in San Diego
In May 2001 the City Council established an Implementation Task Force comprised of patients, police and city officials. The group was tasked with creating guidelines for acceptable use of medical cannabis in San Diego. Those guidelines were created and two years later on September 29th 2003 the guidelines came before the council for a vote on whether to incorporate them into the municipal code. The vote was 6 to 3 with council members Peters, Frye, Atkins, Zucchet, Lewis, & Inzunza voting in favor, and council members Madaffer, Maienschein, and then Mayor Murphy voting in opposition.
Two weeks later, California Senate Bill 420 was signed into law. This bill required the State Department of Health Services to establish and maintain an identification card program for qualified medical cannabis patients. The cards were to be issued through County Health Departments. Soon after, medical cannabis dispensaries began to open in San Diego. However, the city task force only provided guidelines for small co-operative growing operations, it did not endorse dispensaries.
For the next two years numerous dispensaries operated in San Diego. It became clear there was a need to address neighborhood issues related to their operation. These are the kinds of discussions that are ongoing now in counties like LA and Orange where hundreds of dispensaries are currently operating. But here that discussion stopped and San Diego County got something different.
In November of 2005 Jerry Sanders became the new mayor of San Diego. The new mayor and the County abandoned discussion. On December 12th 2005 federal DEA agents worked with local law enforcement to raid local dispensaries at gunpoint. Officials claimed victory when their operation closed the 13 dispensaries and people were forced to drive north to obtain their medicine. This operation was estimated to have had a fiscal impact of 1.2 million dollars according to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a group currently spearheading advances in medical cannabis law.
In January of 2006 the County voted in a 3-2 decision to file suit against the State seeking to overturn the 10-year-old medical cannabis law. ASA claimed in 2006 that council president Peters was actively trying to keep council members from placing the issue on the City Council docket at Sander’s behest. ASA then called Mayor Sanders “the biggest obstacle to creating regulations in San Diego”. The mayor is blocking a discussion that has medical cannabis patients in San Diego stuck in limbo.
Many Hope members outlined their request for State ID cards. While the City did authorize the Medicinal Cannabis Voluntary Verification Card Program in February of 2002, the system has proven to be flawed. Klein, the group founder, described the problems faced by law enforcement officers in the field and the “20,000 card holders in the county.” “Local law enforcement agencies are not uniform in their treatment of patients” said Klein, “some officers call to verify the cards are valid others mock the card as being worthless.”
Another Hope Member, talked about her introduction to medical cannabis while undergoing interferon treatment for chemotherapy. After experiencing the benefits it provided her, she began a caregiver service to assist other patients dealing with serious problems. She provides baked goods for patients who cannot or choose not to inhale their medicine. She offered to introduce Gayle Francis to some of her patients so she can witness how many truly benefit from safe access to medical cannabis.
FOX 6 News and KUSI camera crews were in attendance to film Mr. Francis’ response to being told “go f_ck yourself” by Mayor Sanders on Sunday 4/20 during Earth Day at Balboa Park. Members of the Hope group feel the response from the Mayor on their issue has been similar. Francis, speaking to the group promised “not to give you the cold shoulder”. Klein thanked Mr. Francis for “inspiring him” and “bringing hope to the group”.