San Francisco voters to decide pot-growing issue

SAN FRANCISCO -- Frustrated by the government's determination to shut down medical marijuana clubs, San Francisco is thinking about growing its own.

The Board of Supervisors voted late Monday to put a measure on the November ballot that would have city officials explore the possibility of growing marijuana on publicly owned lots and distributing it to ill patients.

Supporters said the program could double as job training for the unemployed.

"I don't think it would be all that dramatic a venture," said supervisor Mark Leno, who proposed the idea with three colleagues.

California was the first state to approve the use of marijuana for medical ailments, in 1996.

San Francisco already issues medical marijuana use cards to patients who have a doctor's permission. Police here have refused to participate in any raids and last year city leaders declared San Francisco a sanctuary for medical cannabis use.

Leno said he drafted the proposal because the Drug Enforcement Administration remains determined to close down medical marijuana clubs across California.

When DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson spoke here in February, Leno was protesting out front with a bullhorn.

"If the federal government is going to continue to harass and shut down these clubs, then I think it's the city's responsibility to take action," he said. "If 60 or 70 percent of voters say 'yes,' the supervisors would be on very solid ground knowing that voters would be with us."

Cultivating, possessing and distributing marijuana are illegal under federal law. DEA spokesman Richard Meyer if San Francisco began growing marijuana, it could expect a crackdown.

"Unless Congress changes the law and makes marijuana a legal substance, then we have to do our job and enforce the law, whether or not it's popular," he said.

San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who has supported medical marijuana clubs, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Medical marijuana advocates lauded the ballot measure.

"The real fight we've been having is distribution," said Wayne Justmann, who's been HIV positive for more than 15 years, carries the first city-issued ID card and operates one of San Francisco's 11 remaining pot clubs.