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FOUR-TWENTY: THE BILL WITH OH SO MANY MEANINGS SACRAMENTO — Anyone with experience on the fringes of mainstream culture (or in a college dorm) should appreciate the innuendo of SB 420, which is currently making its way through the state Legislature. The measure, by Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, seeks to correct what some see as deficiencies in California’s medicinal marijuana law. The bill would amend the statute, found under Health and Safety Code � 11362.5, to establish statewide standards for medicinal marijuana users and issue them identification cards. It’s a serious bill and an idea that has been proposed several times since 1999, when Attorney General Bill Lockyer created a task force to implement the medicinal marijuana law, passed by voters in 1996 as Proposition 215. By creating a statewide system, supporters hope to cut down on the number of arrests of medicinal users by cities and counties that aren’t as open to the idea of sick people smoking marijuana as authorities are in, say, San Francisco. The innuendo is in the bill number. “420″ — pronounced “four-twenty,” never “four hundred and twenty” — is slang used by marijuana users and usually means, “Hey, it’s time to go smoke.” The origins of the term are a bit foggy. Some believe the number is California Penal Code for marijuana possession (not true) or police radio code (also untrue). A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle, citing High Times magazine, traced the phrase back to a group of high-schoolers in San Rafael. April 20 has also now become an important day for activists, including supporters of California’s medicinal statute. Usually, bill numbers have nothing to do with what’s inside. They’re handed out sequentially as measures cross the clerk’s desk in each house. Occasionally, legislators make special requests. For the record, Vasconcellos’ office won’t say one way or the other whether the senator specifically asked for 420 in the Legislature. – Jeff Chorney SIBLING SNICKERS The San Francisco visit last week from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer began with a serious message — that people should get involved in civic life — but it was easy to forget once he and his younger brother, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, got rolling and began hazing each other. “Do you think mom loved me more than she loved you?” Charles began, drawing laughter from more than 200 judges and lawyers in the Northern District’s ceremonial courtroom. Charles also needled Stephen about often being in the minority on a conservative Supreme Court. “Tell me about these dissents. Why do you keep writing them? What do you hope to accomplish?” the trial judge said. “I don’t write dissents.” Stephen was quick to point out that he is more often in the majority of 5-4 decisions of the court, something he investigated “to cheer myself up.” Stephen, who worked in academia and in Washington, D.C., before becoming a judge, teased Charles about his long career as a litigator. “I’d say, ‘Judges are God’s children,’ and he’d say, ‘There’s no evidence!’ It’s surprising how Charles has changed [since he became a judge],” he said. Charles came back at Stephen, pointing out that he’s still the junior member of the bench. “Now you know what it’s like to be a younger brother. You have to get the coffee, you have to open the door,” Breyer said. Stephen smiled. “I don’t have to get the coffee,” he said. “I do have to open the door.” Charles said his parents sent Stephen to Stanford University in order to get his nose out of books, while he was sent off to Harvard University to get his nose into one. “I think our parents were concerned that you would end up a philosophy professor, and I would end up being an actor. And here we are wondering, ‘Where did we go wrong?’” Charles said. Later, while discussing appellate review, Charles pointed out that his patent cases are appealed to the specialized Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The only other instance of this in the judiciary where appeals go to specialists, he said, are criminal sentences in Texas. Not that Breyer was criticizing such systems. Oh, no. “I learned from the Dixie Chicks not to criticize Texas justice. But I don’t want my opinions stomped on any more than the Dixie Chicks want their CDs stomped,” he said. — Jason Hoppin TIME MANAGEMENT Alameda Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado wasn’t happy at being kept waiting in his own courtroom. The latecomer, Oakland Police Chief Richard Word, was the most high-profile city official to testify in the “Riders” case, in which three fired police officers are accused of brutality, planting evidence and lying in police reports. Word’s testimony was expected to help prove that police brass told officers to use drastic measures to wipe out drug crimes. But when defense attorney Michael Rains called Word to the stand on May 1, the standing-room-only crowd of spectators and reporters turned expectantly toward the courtroom door — but no one entered. After several minutes dragged by, Dorado asked Rains where the witness was. Rains explained that Word was in a nearby office taking a phone call and added that he’d try to “hasten” the chief along. “Hasten him off,” Dorado snapped. “I want him in here. Tell him to end the call now.” Prosecutor David Hollister, who was sitting at the counsel’s table, chortled to himself and nodded. Rains quickly walked out of the courtroom and returned, saying, “He’s on his way, judge.” Within seconds, the police chief took the witness stand. — Jahna Berry

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