Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.

Local leaders joined marijuana legalization supporters outside Los Angeles City Hall Thursday to call on federal authorities to end the “war” on cannabis that began 100 years ago with a raid on two marijuana gardens in Los Angeles.

The first known marijuana bust — reported on Sept. 10, 1914 — happened in Sonoratown, an area now known as Chinatown. The California Board of Pharmacy, which deemed cannabis an illegal substance, cut down and confiscated $500 worth of “Indian hemp” from two homes in the Mexican colony.

“It was really the beginning of a 100-year war on cannabis that’s still going on today,” said Dale Gieringer, the state coordinator of the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The war on marijuana has resulted in “2.7 million arrests in California, over half of which have been for minorities, in particular Hispanics and African-Americans,” Gieringer said.

It also led to tax dollars being waste on enforcing the drug policies and lost revenue that would have been collected through legal sales of cannabis, he said.

Gieringer’s group hosted today’s City Hall event with the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. The two organizations are working to put a measure on a 2016 ballot to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in California.

Medicinal marijuana is legal in the state, but municipalities are still struggling to reconcile federal laws that consider cannabis controlled substance and the state’s allowances for medical use.

Los Angeles voters last year approved Proposition D, which restricts the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to operate in the city to no more than 135 dispensaries that filed before a 2007 cut-off date. No new medical marijuana shops in Los Angeles are allowed.

The event marking the 100th anniversary of the first cannabis bust was attended by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who pushed for the approval of Proposition D.

Koretz noted that marijuana appears to have fewer dangerous side effects than for some pharmaceuticals advertised on television.

“Now is the time to benefit all those individuals that really need access to marijuana,” he said. “We are here to say it starts now.”

Those at the event today may not agree on how cannabis should be regulated and what its benefits are, Koretz said, but a conversation about “ultimately appropriate federal legislation must be accomplished.”

West Hollywood Councilman John Duran said the dangers of marijuana have been overstated by the federal government.

As someone who has a history with alcohol abuse and is now sober, “marijuana is no more threatening to me than alcohol,” said Duran, who was the attorney representing the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, which provided marijuana to AIDS patients and others who needed it for medical ailments.

“And I think we are finally at a period in the community’s history where we can tell the truth about marijuana being the equivalent of alcohol, instead of continuing the farce that we’ve been living under for the last hundred years,” he said.

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, another supporter of legalizing marijuana, also attended the event, saying the drug helped him get through his bout with colon cancer.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for medical marijuana,” which allowed him to maintain his appetite, he said.

Part way through the event, marijuana smoke wafted past the speakers as Richard Eastman, a colorful and vocal medical marijuana supporter, puffed on a joint at the bottom of the City Hall steps.

Eastman, who claims to have “invented medical marijuana” and opened the first medical pot shop in Los Angeles to help those with AIDS, said he supports President Barack Obama rescheduling marijuana as a drug that could be prescribed by doctors and obtained at drugstores such as CVS.

City News Service

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