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The first time Toglia was arrested over medical marijuana, as he was bringing pot to the house of a bedridden patient, he spent 72 hours in prison before being arraigned. Finally, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, then served his punishment by volunteering at an AIDS organization in Brooklyn, the kind of work he does anyway. This time, getting out took only 25 hours, and prosecutors reduced his charges to a misdemeanor.
"We told them we'd go to the grand jury and say we were giving it to people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and MS, and that if they think that's a crime they can charge us," he says.
Ruth Liebesman, one of Toglia's lawyers, says a verbal understanding with the district attorney not to prosecute medical marijuana cases has existed for four years, ever since the first major medical marijuana case in New York City, when felony charges against a man named Johann Moore were dismissed. Toglia says a largely sympathetic police force has stopped more than 40 patients of the cooperative over the past two years and let almost all of them go, many with their weed. He is now searching for doctors, nurses, and lawyers to help build the group into a larger nonprofit harm-reduction outfit with more services, and says activists are discussing a petition drive to put the issue of medical marijuana laws on the ballot; similar drives have passed medical marijuana laws in California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado.
"I really see the medical marijuana thing as where clean needles were a couple of years ago," he says. "Established figures don't like it, but the fact is, the scientific proof is there. It's needed here in New York and they have to make some kind of allowance for it.
"Eventually the law is going to change. Marijuana prohibition was kept in place by misinformation. In the Internet age, everybody already knows the deal."
The New York Medical Marijuana Patients Cooperative can be reached at 212-696-8954, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.