City OKs Medicinal Marijuana Resolution

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Berkeley City Council members unanimously approved a resolution last night to declare Berkeley a sanctuary for medicinal marijuana in the event of federal interference with dispensaries.

The resolution, which was received with overwhelming support and applause from the audience, opposes attempts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley, and urges city, county and state departments to not cooperate in the event that a raid occurs.

By claiming itself as a sanctuary, Berkeley have committed to ensuring that residents are provided access to medicinal marijuana if dispensaries in the city are shut down.

"It's frightening when I go to a dispensary," said Berkeley resident Patricia Crossman, who said she has been using medical marijuana for more than ten years. "There's that fear we're going to be raided. ... We musn't penalize everyone because of this."

Proposition 215, which passed in 1996, legalizes marijuana usage for medicinal purposes in California.

The proposition had overwhelming local support, with 85 percent of Berkeley voters approving the measure, Councilmember Darryl Moore said.

Federal law, however, states that any use, cultivation or distribution of marijuana is a federal violation.

In the case of a raid, the Berkeley Police Department will not cooperate with the DEA, a pre-existing policy. However, if there is an emergency in which lives are in danger, the police department would provide safety enforcement, said Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

An increase in the use of medicinal marijuana as a recreational drug and for sale has been noticed, which can welcome violence and crime into neighborhoods, said DEA Special Agent Casey McEnry.

But advocates of medicinal marijuana say it is a treatment that patients rely on.

"This is really about the health and safety (of patients)," said Angel Raich, an Oakland resident and medicinal marijuana proponent. "This is about saving lives."

Some advocates also argued that a surge of federal interferences nationwide made it important for the resolution to be passed and declared immediately.

In July 2007, the assets of a Berkeley cannabis club were frozen following a series of federal raids on Los Angeles County medical marijuana dispensaries.

"It's more extremely necessary now because of the surge to interfere with state law," said Becky DeKeuster, community liaison for Berkeley Patients Group, a local dispensary.

Supporters said they were happy about the enthusiastic support by the City Council and said they wanted the resolution to be a model to other cities.

"At least in Berkeley, patients can be safe," Raich said. "If any dispensaries close, we won't have to go to the local corner drug dealer to get medicine."


Jane Shin covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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