|Pro-Pot Group Aims To Change Perceptions|
Posted by FoM on September 16, 2000 at 10:38:22 PT|
By Erin Hyun, Daily Californian
The typical "pot smoker" stereotype does not translate well in the case of Don Duncan. Dressed neatly in slacks and a collared shirt, the executive director of Berkeley's Cannabis Action Network taunts all common views held about cannabis users.
"Not all cannabis smokers are scraggy," says Duncan. "Most cannabis users are people just like you and me -- normal, everyday people." Since its inception in 1989, the Cannabis Action Network has been distributing information about the beneficial uses of cannabis. The group says the plant has wide-ranging uses, from helping asthmatics and relieving nausea to reducing salivation.
When Duncan first moved to California, he says he came to a stunning epiphany about his life.
"I realized for the first time that I was a criminal just because I was smoking cannabis," Duncan said.
He then joined up with the group in 1995 and has been with it ever since.
"This is a community of people who are motivated to get cannabis usage talked about and discussed," he says.
Although the group does not keep a specific list of its members, it does have an approximate mailing list of 5,000 people at any given time.
Duncan stressed that the organization is an education-oriented group trying to spread the message that there are numerous positive uses of cannabis, specifically medical cannabis. The group actively participates every year at concerts and small venues all over the Bay Area, passing out informational flyers and pamphlets.
Major events, like the 420 Festival in San Francisco, are where Cannabis Action Network members focus heavily on getting their message out to the community.
"This is about personal empowerment," Duncan adds. "The more educated people are, the more likely they are to make more informed decisions."
Duncan also makes a distinction between marijuana and cannabis. "Marijuana was a negative term applied in the '30s and '40s during the era of 'Reefer Madness,'" he says. "Cannabis, however, is the more correct term because it indicates the whole range of plant products."
He and his group also believe in personal responsibility.
"I believe a responsible adult should never get in trouble for smoking cannabis," Duncan says about the nation's current war on drugs. "I visited Amsterdam one year and there was open cannabis-selling and smoking in cafes. No one under the age of 18 is allowed to buy, and there are certain rules on how much dry cannabis a cafe can have in stock at one time."
He believes this attitude toward cannabis is beneficial for everyone involved.
"Less harm is associated with cannabis than any other substance, such as alcohol or tobacco," Duncan says. "People are just using it to have fun."
Robert Raich, an attorney who has represented the organization, says he helped lobby for the city to allow the group to fully enforce the Berkeley Cannabis Ordinance of 1979, which put marijuana enforcement as the lowest priority of the Berkeley Police Department, even below jaywalking.
A spokesperson for the department was unavailable for comment.
The city's Community Health Commission considered new cannabis legislation at its meeting Thursday night. The measure, which Raich helped write, would set "useful guidelines" on medical cannabis policy.
Oakland has such an ordinance, which sets a limit for the number of cannabis plants a person can grow for medical use, detailing what police should do if they come across a "garden," Raich says.
This kind of legislation, says Duncan, will help the police by clarifying their role in a situation where federal law and the state's medical marijuana proposition conflict. It will eliminate the "guesswork" for officers on the job.
Raich also represents the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative, which was recently allowed, by a U.S. District Court judge, to distribute cannabis to "seriously ill patients who have no legal alternative" to cannabis. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, recently issued a ruling that prevents the club from distributing until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hears the case.
This does not, Raich says, affect Berkeley's situation. In fact, the city's many doctors that prescribe medical cannabis are more protected now than ever, since a federal injunction last Thursday against the government, saying it cannot revoke the liscenses of those doctors.
"Eventually the politicians in Washington are going to wise up to what the voters of California realize," Raich says.
Raich says the Clinton Adminstration has come down harder on recreational drug users recently, in an effort to avoid appearing "soft on drugs" during an election season.
Meanwhile, the organization will keep up its efforts. Raich laments that, in the meantime, patients who are prevented from using cannabis will have to live with their pain.
"There are benefits of cannabis that go against what the drug war is attacking," Duncan adds. "The criminal prohibition of cannabis goes against law-abiding individuals who use it. A policy that criminalizes the whole population can't work."
Duncan also speaks praise of a program developed by the organization called Guidelines for Sensible Cannabis Use.
"It's based on the idea that people (should) be reminded to make personal limits and to not take legal risks," he says. "We've distributed almost 20,000 copies of this across the country."
Duncan and the group stress that it is not a political organization.
"Other cannabis-oriented groups are focused on lobbying -- explicitly in politics," Duncan says. "We are involved in education. We work in the trenches, telling one person at a time to think consciously about cannabis use. If you ask people, you'll find that nobody believes in the current cannabis laws. We're not saying that everyone has to agree with us, but we're hoping to set an example for the rest of the country."
By Erin Hyun, Daily Californian, U. California-Berkeley
(U-WIRE) Berkley, Calif.
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Comment #1 posted by Mary Jane on February 15, 2001 at 11:07:54 PT:|
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