Pubdate: Fri, 28 Sep 2001
Source: Orange County Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Orange County Weekly, Inc.
Author: Nick Schou
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


OC War Against Medical Marijuana Still Rages

Excuse Marvin Chavez if it all seemed like a bad flashback. Santa Ana police
officers raided his home at about 9 p.m. on Sept. 6 and confiscated 46 live
marijuana plants and "numerous" dried plants. It was the third time in as
many years that Chavez had found himself playing a reluctant host to cops in
his home -- and the latest proof that Orange County law-enforcement
authorities refuse to comply with California's overwhelmingly supported
medical-marijuana law.

Proposition 215, the November 1996 medical-marijuana initiative that was
also called the Compassionate Use Initiative, allows sick Californians to
grow and smoke cannabis as long as they have written approval from a doctor.
Orange County police and prosecutors campaigned vigorously against Prop.
215, and the most recent raid on Chavez shows they are still trying to
defeat state law. Instead of drafting guidelines on how many cannabis plants
sick residents should be able to grow, authorities have leveraged the law's
ambiguities into arrests of such activists as Chavez.

The district attorney's office has not yet filed charges against him, but
police cited Chavez for possession with intent to sell marijuana. People who
lack a doctor's prescription can expect to be arrested for such a crime if
police catch them with anything more than an ounce of marijuana -- or a
lesser amount divided into smaller baggies. Chavez, who has never made a
secret of the fact that he grows and smokes marijuana, had at least 10
pounds of marijuana in his greenhouse and a storage shed, according to

Santa Ana police spokesman Sergeant Baldazar De La Riva told the Weekly that
Chavez's house was raided after the department received a confidential tip
that he was growing marijuana in a backyard greenhouse. Police were
particularly troubled by the size of the crop, the sophistication of his
growing techniques, and the fact that Chavez had packaged some of his
harvested crop into "15 clear, Ziplock baggies."

"That's one of the things we're investigating: why someone growing marijuana
for personal use would package it into individual baggies," De La Riva
explained. "Had [Chavez] not had this history of prior arrests and a medical
condition, he would have been booked and brought down to the station. We
gave him the benefit of the doubt."

"This crop was for my personal use," Chavez told the Weekly the day after
the police bust. "I have never hidden behind the law. The police aren't
going after black-market distributors; they're going after sick, disabled
and dying citizens."

Chavez said he smokes marijuana -- and even eats it in butter form --
because it relieves the painful symptoms of his ankylosing spondilitis, a
rare disease that fuses his bones together. He claimed Santa Ana police
violated his rights under Prop. 215 by ripping up his marijuana crop just
weeks before harvesting season. Chavez also said police destroyed his
greenhouse and seized computers and a homemade video on cultivating
marijuana that he planned to share with fellow co-op members.

He is no stranger to the legal turmoil that has surrounded the medical
marijuana movement ever since the passage of Prop. 215 -- particularly in
Orange County. While the Oakland district attorney's office negotiated
guidelines with local activists that allowed sick residents to grow up to 48
flowering and 96 non-flowering marijuana plants indoors (but not exceeding
72 plants total), no similar guidelines exist in Orange County. Instead, the
official position in the county has been to investigate and prosecute
medical-marijuana activists.

Three years ago, Chavez became one of the first victims of this trend when
he provided marijuana to two undercover Garden Grove police detectives who
posed as a sick patient and his caregiver desperate for medical cannabis.
After a jury convicted Chavez of selling pot, he was sentenced in January
1999 to six years in prison. Pending his ongoing appeal, a judge released
him in April 2000 -- with a renewed warning to Chavez not to continue
distributing marijuana.

Alan Bock, an Orange County Register editorial writer and medical-marijuana
expert, doubts that county prosecutors have enough evidence to file charges
against Chavez. "If they don't have iron-clad proof of sales and transfers
[of marijuana], they've got no business filing charges," said Bock, who
added there is no limit to the amount of marijuana that sick Orange County
residents who have their doctor's permission can grow. "The law doesn't have
numbers in it," he said.

Chavez hopes the courts will eventually allow him to restart his co-op and,
ultimately, share his marijuana surplus with co-op members too sick or
otherwise unable to grow their own cannabis. But he insists he has learned
his lesson about distribution and is currently sharing only literature and
educational material -- and not marijuana -- with other sick Orange County

"If they call and ask me to turn myself in, I will," Chavez promised. "I'm
not hiding. I have nothing to hide. I'm not here to make money off the sick
and dying citizens of this movement. I'm here to support and educate
patients. Right now, they've got us scattered and terrified."
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