Proposition S - Medical Marijuana

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2002 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This measure states the following, in its entirety:

"In light of the recent federal Drug Enforcement Agency crackdown on local medical cannabis clubs, shall the Board of Supervisors, in conjunction with the Mayor's Office, City Attorney, District Attorney and Department of Public Health, explore the possibility of establishing a program whereby the City would grow medical cannabis and distribute it to patients attempting to exercise their rights under Proposition 215, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996?"

Why it is on the ballot

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been threatening medical cannabis clubs and activists, forcing marijuana clubs across the state to shut their doors and patients in need to fend for themselves on the streets.

California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, a policy statement intended to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The intent of Prop 215 was to make it legal to possess small amounts of marijuana with a doctor's permission. However, the state legislature never passed legislation necessary to implement the one-paragraph Prop 215 policy statement. In any case, it would still be illegal to grow, sell, or transport it. As a result, there is an unstable situation in which law enforcement is supposed to "look the other way" on drug violations that are necessary for people to obtain medical marijuana.

An even bigger problem, however, is that the federal government is not going along with legalization of pot for medical purposes. Prop 215 set up a jurisdictional conflict between federal preemption and state rights, in which the voters of California attempted to strike out on their own.


Those who support Proposition S state that:

  • Medical cannabis is important medicine for the lives of many of our most ill citizens, and their access to it should not be impeded by the federal government.
  • This matter is a local one, and the federal government should respect the will of the State's voters, who declared in 1996 that the medical use of cannabis was appropriate.


Those who oppose Proposition S state that:

  • The Board of Supervisors should not take actions that are directly against federal law, but rather should address the matter through their Congressional representatives.
  • This is the wrong time to bring this issue to the voters. First the City should study the options and make them available to the public. And then, if necessary, there should be a vote of the people, once we know what we are voting for and can evaluate the costs and benefits.

SPUR analysis

The measure, written only as a policy question put to the voters, would not establish any programs or commit the City or Board of Supervisors to any action. Any such program would require further action by the Board, either through direct action, or through development and submission of a more detailed and substantive measure to the voters in the future. The legal risks of a local government taking actions ( i.e. , growing and distributing medical cannabis) that violate federal law have would be researched fully before any City-run medical cannabis growing and distribution program is established.

The measure is advisory only. But if it passes by a significant margin, the hope is it will send several political messages. First, it is hoped that it will create pressure in Sacramento to pass legislation implementing Prop 215. Second, it is hoped that it would create political pressure on the federal government to leave the medical marijuana clubs alone. Third , it is intended to provide political cover to national representatives in the House and Senate to try to change federal drug policy. And fourth , it is intended to encourage local policy makers to go ahead and take the steps necessary to make it easier for people to obtain marijuana for medical purposes.

Although it's easy to treat medical marijuana as a joke, it is a real public policy issue, and one which the voters of California have clearly spoken on already. The federal government is currently intent on pursuing its "drug war" even against medical cann abi s clubs. This measure may not be strong enough to cause a change in federal policy, but it is certainly a well intended step.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition S.