Pedaling for pot
May 22, 2006
Bicycling members of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will be blazing through the Boulder area today in part of their Journey for Justice, advocating the right of patients and doctors to use medical marijuana.
The group left Folly Beach, South Carolina on April 7, hoping to smoke across the country and reach San Francisco on June 1.
“We want to see legislation pass where medical marijuana is no longer illegal,” said Mark Pedersen, ASA's traveling coordinator. Over the phone while heading west on Highway 24 through Kansas last Friday, Pedersen added, “We're proving we're not going to quit until this becomes a blatant public issue.”
The goal after reaching California is to have enough finances to go back to Washington and lobby for pro-medical marijuana legislation.
“We've gotten a number of endorsements from lawmakers,” said Pedersen, not discussing specific names. “Some have done so much as to invite us into their homes.”
On their ride, ASA is following with a petition truck, collecting thousands of signatures of support. At points along the way, the travelers have stayed at camp sites, met with local chapters of supportive groups, video-interviewed different patients and gained endorsements from lawmakers.
“Through five and a half states, law enforcement people have been in full support and signed our vehicle,” said Pedersen.
Pedersen is driving the truck with food and supplies. Riding alongside is Ken Locke, a fellow medical patient who began using marijuana to prevent seizures caused by a head injury. Pedersen uses marijuana to ease migraines.
“We know we're putting our health in jeopardy by making this trip,” said Pedersen. Since it would be illegal to take their medical supplies with them, the riders have other people bringing them marijuana. The group has already been raided once unsuccessfully by police and drug-sniffing dogs in Kansas.
The toughest stretch so far on the journey was running out of money in Topeka. With the help of individuals pulling money together, they were able to continue down the road and spread their message.
“We want our chronically ill not to be persecuted. They are being stripped of the only medication that helps,” said Pedersen. “People are saying ‘Hell yes, this legislation should have passed a long time ago.'”
Bo Shaffer, treasurer of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), will be hosting the riders at his Boulder County home for part of their eight-day stay in Colorado.
“We're sending a message to lawmakers,” said Shaffer, who is also a Libertarian candidate for sheriff. “Let's get away from calling this an illegal drug. Let's call it what it really is-a medicine.”
Amendment 20-which passed on the ballot in November of 2000-legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. But Shaffer still sees the current process as inefficient.
“It's in limbo in a way. On the advice of a doctor you can go to the state and they will issue a certificate; but what is someone supposed to do past that?” said Shaffer. “To a certain extent, it's quasi-illegal.”
As for legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Shaffer said we need to legalize drugs and let people take responsibility, like with alcohol.
“It's not the government's job to determine what you put in your body,” said Shaffer.
Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle said he is personally opposed to medical marijuana, but was unaware of ASA's travel through Boulder and had no comment on the bicycle ride itself.
“I know that medical marijuana is allowed in the state of Colorado,” said Steve Prentup, director of the Boulder County Drug Task Force. “So be it. I don't know what their purpose is.”