By Jeff McDonald
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
November 1, 2006

Armed with bullhorns and posters – and seemingly the will of voters – dozens of medical marijuana activists staged a protest outside a Mission Valley hotel yesterday.

The hour-long demonstration, called to counter a two-day drug-abuse prevention conference under way at the Marriott, ended in a standoff in the hotel parking lot.
Police arrested seven people on suspicion of trespassing, including Kris Hermes, a lawyer for Americans for Safe Access, the Berkeley group that organized the demonstration.

Craig McClain, a partially paralyzed 50-year-old man from Vista, was cited and released at the scene because he uses an electric cart. McClain broke into tears as he was ticketed.

“It's a dramatization of the fear patients face every day,” said Steph Sherer, the Americans for Safe Access executive director. “We don't have a choice. We have to use this medication.”

Police said the arrests had nothing to do with the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws. The suspects simply refused to leave when officers told them to disperse, Lt. Jerry McManus said.

“They didn't really commit any other violation,” he said. “More than likely, they'll be cited and released for a future court date.”

Under California's Proposition 215, which passed with support from 56 percent of voters in 1996, qualified patients can use marijuana to relieve symptoms caused by the effects of AIDS, cancer and other ailments. The drug remains illegal under federal law.

The National Marijuana Initiative, a government effort to join police and prevention groups in fighting drug abuse, concludes its annual conference today. Conference officials said they sympathize with patients, but they want to make sure drugs are not readily available to children.

“When you don't have those controls, you have really unfettered access,” said John Redman of Californians for Drug-Free Youth, a San Diego nonprofit that co-hosted the conference. “There's nobody telling them how much they can or can't have.”