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Elvy Musikka lives in a pot-smoker's dream: She's one of seven people in the United States who receive pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes each month from the federal government as part of a drug study.
No wonder she was smiling Thursday, hobnobbing at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco with hundreds of others who share her quest to legalize the leaf.
Through Saturday, the hotel is the place to be for marijuana enthusiasts, as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws holds its annual conference in what the organization's Web site calls "America's most hemp- friendly city."
The scent was pungent, the dress casual to hippie and the faces friendly Thursday outside the conference rooms, where tables offered novelties such as Oaksterdam sweatshirts for $27, $5 hemp-shaped lapel pins and, of course, matches and cigarette lighters.
Richard Lee, who runs the SR71 medicinal marijuana dispensary in Oakland, was selling the Oaksterdam gear. "SR71 was the first stealth plane and, until recently, the highest flying plane," he said. "Mine is the highest flying coffee shop."
Lee's is one of just four medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Oakland, where officials decided last year to weed out the city's share of medicinal pot clubs.
Meanwhile, at least 37 pot shops call San Francisco home, and the Board of Supervisors this week voted to ban any new ones until it devises a way to regulate the existing dispensaries. Under Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, it's legal to use medicinal marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor in California.
Federal law enforcement officials, however, think differently, as they are duty-bound to enforce U.S. anti-drug laws that contain no such exemption for cannabis. Among the attendees at the NORML conference were Angel Raich of Oakland and Diane Monson of Oroville (Butte County), who sued the Justice Department following government drug raids of medicinal marijuana co-ops. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue what is expected to be a precedent- setting ruling any day now in the case that should settle the federal and state law conflict.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, said it was exciting to land in town at a time when medical marijuana is on the political agenda.
Referring to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who started his day Thursday officially welcoming NORML to San Francisco, St. Pierre said: "When someone like Ross sticks his hand out and says, 'We want to work with you. We want to do things differently' -- we have arrived."
"I gave them a hearty welcome on behalf of the city that helped birth the medicinal marijuana movement," said Mirkarimi, who introduced the ban passed Tuesday on new pot clubs in San Francisco.
His comments drew a standing ovation. Afterward, he said, "I was being offered various baked goods; I received a couple of T-shirts and hats made out of hemp -- I declined the baked goods, by the way. It was very surreal."
Sixty-five-year-old Musikka, who was born with congenital cataracts and uses her federally supplied marijuana to help relieve pressure in her eyes, said she had tried the drug 25 years ago at the urging of a doctor even though she was afraid of its effects.
Now, she said, "It's the fountain of youth. There isn't even an aspirin in my medicine cabinet. There is no need. I smoke it, eat it -- I'll use it topically as well if I hit a doorknob or something and think I'll get a bruise. "
And she wants to spread the word.
"To arrest an adult for choosing the 'wiser bud' is the epitome of hypocrisy," she said. "To arrest a patient for using the Creator's work is blasphemy."
Fortunately for the NORML attendees, there weren't any arrests Thursday.
Lee, of SR71, and his companions who took a break to light up outside the hotel were just part of the landscape of the joint.