Pubdate: Sun, 09 Sep 2001
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Orange County Register
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


There is a simple, common-sense way for police to handle a situation
in which they find somebody growing marijuana who claims to be a
patient authorized - as patients with a doctor's recommendation have
been since November 1996 under California law - to possess, use and
cultivate cannabis. They can take photographs, take copies of
documentation and perhaps a few samples and tell the person something
like: We're going to check this out very carefully, and if you turn
out to be a phony we'll be back to arrest you.

Time-dated photographs and small samples should be plenty to make a
case should the person turn out to be a recreational user or somebody
growing marijuana for the black market. There is no need to take the
plants on this first visit. If the person does turn out to be a bona
fide patient the police will have to return the plants.

That's not the way the Santa Ana Police handled Marvin Chavez, founder
of the Orange County Patient Doctor Nurse Support Group, Thursday
night when they visited his house in Santa Ana. Mr. Chavez, who
suffers from the degenerative spinal disorder ankylosing spondylitis,
showed them the letter from his doctor and support group material. All
the plants he was growing were identified with signs as being medical
marijuana grown legally under Section 11362.5 of the California Health
and Safety Code. The police, according to Mr. Chavez, commented on the
signs. They tore out all the plants, ransacked his house and his
garage, took his computer, video camera and numerous tapes, disks and

Mr. Chavez was not arrested or charged with a crime. The police told
him they needed the plants as evidence so the district attorney can
decide whether to file charges.

That was completely unnecessary, unprofessional and should be viewed
by any decent citizen as unconscionable. Section 11362.5 has been the
law in California since November 1996, when the people approved Prop.
215, the Compassionate Use Act. It states: "Section 11357, relating to
the possession of marijuana, and Section 11358, relating to the
cultivation of marijuana, shall not apply to a patient, or to a
patient's primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for
the personal medical purposes for the patient upon the written or oral
recommendation or approval of a physician."

That's pretty clear. The police are to leave medical marijuana
patients alone. They can check on their recommendations to make sure
they are valid, and can make sure the physicican who issued a
recommenation is licensed. They might even ask the patient what
condition he has, although the law does not specifically authorize
them to inquire beyond whether the patient has a physician's
recommendation. If a patient is bona fide, the possession and
cultivation laws "shall not apply." How difficult could it be to train
officers in such a simple procedure?

For a bona fide patient, as the Orange County District Attorney's
office explicitly acknowledged that Mr. Chavez is during previous
court proceedings, having growing plants confiscated amounts to severe
punishment. In Mr. Chavez's case he was deprived of the medicine that
gives him relief from his chronic pain, and the plants that he hoped
would supply his medical needs for a year. Not to mention the
suffering and inconvenience involved in having the police poke through
your house for five hours while you lie on the sofa in pain, forbidden
to medicate yourself.

A Santa Ana police spokesman told us the case was pursued like any
other marijuana-growing case. The quantity of plants - about 40 in
various stages of growth - raised questions about whether it was all
for personal use.

Treating a medical marijuana case like any other growing case is
precisely what is wrong here. The police should have developed
procedures that respect the rights voters gave to patients while
safeguarding against diversion.

Mr. Chavez probably has grounds for a lawsuit that could cost Santa
Ana taxpayers plenty. The Santa Ana Police Department has some
explaining - and with any luck some training to do.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake