Mickey Martin stood up before protesters gathered yesterday afternoon at the Oakland Federal Building downtown. He called in his 2-year-old son, who approached shyly from the side and hid behind his father. Martin was about to go to prison. The charge was something both Martin and the State of California say is not a crime: selling medicinal marijuana.
“There’s nobody out here today who looks like a criminal,” said the 35-year-old marijuana advocate, who is preparing to spend the next 12 months in federal prison.
“We want to be part of this community,” he said to the 100 or so supporters, including Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who met on Monday afternoon to protest Martin’s imminent imprisonment.
Mellody Gannon, 52, was one of Martin’s clients. She used marijuana to alleviate cancer symptoms.
“He brought magic to those of us who were sick. He was our spoonful of sugar,” said the San Francisco resident, raising her shirt to show a long vertical scar from an operation to remove a tumor. “His kids are going to suffer, and that’s not right.”
Martin, an Oakland resident, founded the nonprofit company Compassion Medicinal Edibles in 2000. For seven years, the shop near the corner of 40th Street and Broadway produced brownies, chocolate bars and other sweet treats laced with marijuana to be sold in local medical dispensaries.
Then, on September 26, 2007, the feds knocked on his door.
According to Martin, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency raided five facilities connected with his company, including his shop—which he said operated in accordance with state and city laws. DEA agents also raided his house and a cultivation facility.
“It was a pretty traumatic thing to deal with,” Martin said. “My wife and kids went through a lot.”
After the DEA discovered more than 100 marijuana plants at his growing facility, Martin was charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, which carries a 10-year minimum sentence. He eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute products containing trace amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and was sentenced to two years in prison. He has already served the first year at home under house arrest.
“It’s senseless,” Martin said. “It’s a pretty violent thing to experience for making brownies for sick and dying people in California.”
Martin is scheduled to report today to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Cornell Correctional Facility in San Francisco, where he will serve the final year of his sentence.
“Mickey Martin is not a criminal,” Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said during speech at the protest yesterday. “Incarcerating Mickey Martin is a crime.” Worthington added that the health-care reform bill in Congress should include provisions to allow people like Martin to provide medicinal marijuana products to patients.
Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who did not discuss Martin’s case specifically during her remarks, said that Oakland has been in the forefront “both of what is beautiful and what has been troubling on this [medical marijuana] issue.”
On the local level, Kaplan said that Oakland has taken steps to protect providers and consumers of medical marijuana—such as awarding legal permits for medical dispensers. She also said Oakland makes sure that the medicinal marijuana dispensary system “is being run in a responsible, accountable way.”
Kaplan said that medicinal marijuana could also become an important source of revenue to the city, which faced close to a $100 million deficit last year. She also referred to the proposal initiated by cannabis guru and Oaksterdam University’s president Richard Lee for statewide legalization and taxation of marijuana, which supporters say will be on the California ballot in 2010.
On the federal level, however, things are complicated. Kaplan cited a 2005 case where the Supreme Court denied one of her constituents with a brain tumor the right to use medical marijuana, even if the woman could prove that the treatment improved her condition.
“Let’s be clear on this,” Kaplan said. “They said even if she would die without it, they would take it away from her. That is the face of what we are up against.”
For consumers of medical marijuana in Oakland today, the risk of getting in trouble with federal authorities is slim. Still, some at the protest said they constantly worry that the murky legal situation means they may inadvertently be breaking the law by purchasing medicinal marijuana.
Cecile Bonaudi, a retired Oakland resident who uses marijuana to alleviate chronic pain, said she follows all the rules. She gets a prescription from her doctor and buys products only from the four legal dispensaries in Oakland. Yet she’s still worried about it.
“I do what I think is legal,” Bonaudi said. “But yet there’s always the fear that if they want me, they could come get me.”
Bonaudi, who said she’s been suffering from chronic pains for over ten years and much prefers marijuana to other drugs such as oxycontin, said that she feels fortunate to live in California.
“I would never live in a place where I didn’t have access,” Bonaudi said. “I couldn’t. I don’t even travel. When I travel, I suffer.”