By Dave Hodges
In 1996, The Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215, passed with 66 percent of the vote,allowing for the launch of medical marijuana clubs in the state. The Act itself dictates that “governments implement a plan to provide the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need.” Oakland, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco were the first local cities to provide safe access to medical marijuana for those in need.
In 1998, the late Peter Baez and Jesse Garcia opened San Jose’s first medical marijuana cooperative, the Santa Clara County Medical Cannabis Center. The assistant district attorney at the time referred to Peter as “the Eagle scout of the medical marijuana movement” and Baez believed he had the support of the local officials.
Though well intentioned and meticulous with his record keeping, SCCMCC was raided after a member was arrested for possession of marijuana. The police attempted to verify the member and were unable to do so. This gave the police an excuse to dig into the operations of the club. It was later found that this member did have a legitimate medical condition.
Approximately six months later a warrant was served and 270 confidential medical records were seized along with a bank account containing approximately $29,000. Baez, first cousin of the folksinger and activist Joan Baez, was arrested and charged with seven felonies. The case hinged on the belief that five of the 270 patients did not have written doctor’s notes recommending the use of marijuana. It was later found by Dr. Tod Mikuriya, former director of marijuana research at the National Institute of Mental Health, that of the five patients in question, “Each and every individual appears to suffer serious chronic illness that qualifies for protection by the Compassionate Use Act.”
In 2000 the case was resolved and Baez pled no contest to a single misdemeanor. He did not receive any jail time and was charged a $100 fine. The seized money was never returned.
In a Metro article about Peter Baez by Eric Johnson, John Carillo, the then SJPD Department spokesperson stated “I don’t know how long [Proposition] 215 is going to be valid,” Carrillo said. “It is not legal under federal statute, and that takes precedence over California law.” Thirteen years later, it seems not much has changed with the San Jose Police Department’s attitude toward Proposition 215.
Fast forward to recently, several cooperatives were raided in the fall by local law enforcement agencies. Angel’s Care, San Jose Patients Group and MediLeaf cooperatives all had their money and assets seized. While none of the assets have been recovered, the court dates and judgments continue to be delayed in an attempt to stall due to a lack of evidence.
Though other cities have worked within state law to provide patients safe access to medical cannabis, San Jose has denied their right to exist. Instead of working with the community to provide reasonable regulations, the city attorney’s reinterpreted the law in an attempt to prevent medical cannabis clubs from operating in San Jose. Based on information release by the city of Gilroy, San Jose’s current strategy to close all 130+ cannabis clubs in town, then open 10 new “legal” clubs, could cost well over $26 million.
When I opened the San Jose Cannabis Buyers Collective, two years ago, I could never have imagined the city would take this path to deny medication to the ill once again. The only way to solve our current crisis, is for the city to take a new approach and help medical cannabis become the dignified industry it should be.