Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2001
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Ventura County Star
Contact:  P.O. Box 6711, Ventura CA 93006
Fax: (805) 650-2950
Author: Bruce McLean


Marijuana: Gray Area In Medicinal Use Statute Proves Vexing For Users, 

In a world where the line between legal and criminal is almost always 
written in black and white, California's medicinal marijuana law stands as 
a wide, gray gulf between clashing factions, all searching for an answer to 
a single question.

How much is too much?

If a case that made its way to the Ventura County courthouse this past week 
proves anything, it's that the answer is not coming anytime soon.

But at least one county supervisor thinks it might be time for his board to 
take the lead in deciding how much marijuana a person can grow legally for 
medicinal use in Ventura County.

"Perhaps this would be an area for the board to develop some guidelines 
here," Supervisor John Flynn said. "I think it has to be dealt with, and no 
one seems to be doing anything about it."

Currently, county law enforcement, prosecutors and marijuana patients are 
operating in a legal limbo created by the vague language of Proposition 
215. The measure, approved in 1996 by wide margins in both Ventura County 
and the state, made it legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation to 
grow, possess and use marijuana to relieve the pain and suffering of 
serious ailments, including cancer and AIDS.

The law, however, set no standards on how much marijuana could be grown or 

Some cities and counties have set their own limits. Medicinal marijuana 
users can have up to 10 plants in the city of Arcata, and up to 12 immature 
or six mature plants in Mendocino County.

But in guidelineless Ventura County, some users have been arrested, only to 
see prosecutors refuse to file charges. Patients have successfully gone to 
court to get back marijuana plants confiscated during their arrests. But no 
one feels any closer to the answer to the central question.

Sheriff Bob Brooks said last week that he's looking to the District 
Attorney's Office for guidance.

But Chief Deputy District Attorney Gregory Totten said the state should set 
the guidelines. And there are no indications the state plans to do it 
anytime soon.

That leaves court cases such as the one involving Craig and Lisa Schulz 
[error for Schwarz] to gobble up taxpayers' time and money.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed charges 
against the Camarillo couple, who were arrested in July 1999 for growing 68 
pot plants in their house and yard.

The Sheriff's Department felt the number of plants was more than what Lisa 
Schulz [Schwarz] needed for her crippling back pain and migraine headaches.

At first, prosecutors agreed, and the case moved forward for nearly 18 
months. But during Wednesday's hearing, after testimony from Schulz 
[Schwarz] and an expert on the yield of marijuana plants and amounts used 
in medical treatment, prosecutors changed their minds.

After the decision, Andrea Nagy, who had her own run-ins with the District 
Attorney's Office when it closed down her medical marijuana dispensary in 
Thousand Oaks, said prosecutors showed they "have a heart."

Deputy District Attorney Bill Redmond, who prosecuted the Schulzes, said it 
was merely a decision based on information that came out during the hearing.

"Because the law is so undefined as to quantity, these cases will continue 
to go to court," Redmond said.

In fact, someone growing fewer plants could still face criminal charges if 
their symptoms aren't as extreme as Lisa Schulz's, Redmond said.

That kind of thinking does not help law enforcement, said Brooks, who was 
not pleased with Wednesday's decision.

"I was really disappointed with the 68-plants case because I think it sends 
a message," he said.

Brooks said Proposition 215 is among the most difficult laws his department 
deals with. Deputies have no guidelines out in the field to tell them who 
is growing too much pot and who is not.

"It's fraught with peril," Brooks said. "We're not out to harass people. 
But it's very tough to deal with."

J. David Nick, Lisa Schulz's San Francisco attorney, filed a lawsuit last 
week on behalf of another Ventura County patient -- this one anonymous -- 
to get a court to set the guidelines. The client, Nick said, wants to avoid 
the legal morass the Schulzes fell into.

"It may eventually force a statewide benchmark," Nick said of the suit. "I 
can't imagine counties would want to deal with this flood of litigation."

In light of such difficulties, Flynn said, it might be time for county 
government to start exploring options. It's clear that marijuana helps some 
patients, and it's clear the voters think those patients should have access 
to the drug, Flynn said. So in the coming weeks, he may ask the Board of 
Supervisors to take up the issue.

"If people absolutely need this, they should have a way to get it without 
the fear of getting arrested," Flynn said.
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