Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2001
Source: Orange County Weekly (CA)
Address: P.O. Box 10788, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Contact:  2001, Orange County Weekly, Inc.
Fax: (714) 708-8410
Author:  Nick Schou


The Sad Fate Of Orange County's Medical-Marijuana Movement

Larry Mollat has a big idea. A self-described "reformed drug smuggler" and 
"ex-con," Mollat says he's "an outlaw who's come in from the cold"--so far 
into the warmth that he wants to teach the county Board of Supervisors to 
grow pot.

It's a compelling prospect: the Colorado transplant with long, graying hair 
describing for the suits on the Board of Supervisors a system he promises 
can produce four ounces of marijuana out of one plant after stems and seeds 
have been discarded. Under Mollat's plan, all that pot would bud under the 
watchful eyes of county officials; flow into a local cannabis buyers' club; 
and from there, get into the hands of the blind, the halt and the lame: 
medical-marijuana users qualified under 1996's Proposition 215.

"I want to grow for a cannabis buyers' club," he exclaimed at a recent 
Valentine's Day mixer hosted by the Orange County Hemp Council. "I want to 
go to the

county of Orange and say, 'If you want control over this [process], step up 
now and get on the same wavelength as northern California.'"

But Mollat has a hard sell ahead of him. Even among friendlies--like this 
tiny gathering at Anaheim's AAA Electra Gallery--support for the plan was 
anemic. And with good reason. They are all that survives of a once 
high-profile movement to provide free cannabis to terminally ill people 
throughout Orange County.

Five years ago, that movement seemed unstoppable. But 1996's election 
victory for Prop. 215 turned out to be the high point. Since then, county 
law-enforcement officials have made good on their promise to eviscerate the 
law, hounding the movement's leaders and rank-and-file members into 
submission and sometimes prison.

Today, the group is limited pretty much to a membership of beleaguered Hemp 
Council activists, whose primary goal is to promote the hemp plant's myriad 
industrial applications, and a $200 operating budget.

"It's hard to get people motivated these days," said Debi Grand, the Hemp 
Council's secretary. "Everybody's so busy with their lives and people are 
too afraid of getting involved because they'll be harassed by the police."

There's good reason for fear. Two of the 15 people who made it to the 
group's sparsely attended meeting were Marvin Chavez and David Lee Herrick, 
co-founders of the Orange County Cannabis Co-op. Shortly after Prop. 215's 
passage, both Chavez and Herrick were arrested and convicted of selling 
marijuana to terminally ill co-cop members in Orange County. In 1999, 
Herrick's five-year sentence was reversed after he spent two years in state 
prison. Chavez, who also spent roughly two years behind bars, was released 
last April pending his ongoing appeal.

Both men say they've given up their dream of providing free cannabis to 
sick people in Orange County. Chavez, who became the victim of an 
undercover police sting after he ignored an Orange County judge's order to 
cease distributing cannabis to members of his organization, says he won't 
make the same mistake again. He claims the cannabis co-op, which he 
re-christened the Orange County Patient-Doctor-Nurse Support Group, is 
still active, but it now provides only pamphlets about medical marijuana to 
sick people.

"The Patient-Doctor-Nurse Support Group is a clearinghouse of information 
and literature about the medical uses of cannabis," Chavez explained. 
"People are having trouble finding doctors willing to prescribe the 
medicine. There are only two doctors in Southern California who will--one 
in Santa Barbara and one in Santa Monica. So we're urging people to educate 
their doctors and give them these pamphlets."

In the early days, Herrick was Chavez's partner. A onetime Vietnam combat 
medic, Herrick broke his back during a car accident while working as a San 
Bernardino County sheriff's deputy. He says he's receiving post-traumatic 
stress disorder treatment from the Veterans Health Administration. His 
political agenda is more modest now: he wants his VA doctor to write him a 
prescription for cannabis. "If he does that, it'll be the first time that 
happens with the VA," Herrick said.

Both Herrick and Chavez--who suffers from a rare bone disorder--have 
written recommendations from doctors allowing them to grow medical 
marijuana in their homes. Chavez grows the drug, as does Bill Britt, the 
Hemp Council's terminally ill vice president, who suffers from severe 
arthritis and uses a cane. All three men said that police have finally 
stopped hassling them about growing marijuana on their own property. "This 
is the first time I have had my own high-quality medicine," Britt said.

Orange County officials were not alone in their campaign to kill Prop. 215. 
But other medical-marijuana organizations have fought back. In northern 
California, Prop. 215 activists are waging ongoing recall campaigns against 
local prosecutors who busted cannabis cooperatives in Placer and Marin 
counties after the initiative passed.

The Orange County Hemp Council's most ambitious plan is to apply for 
federal National Endowment of the Arts funding to expand the group's 
"Mobile Hemp Museum," which currently consists of a small table stacked 
with hemp products and memorabilia, such as an 1870s-era doctor's 
prescription for cannabis.

While the members of the Hemp Council, especially activists like Chavez and 
Herrick, aren't optimistic that county officials will ever allow them to 
distribute medical marijuana to sick people, self-proclaimed cannabis 
expert Mollat remains convinced he can persuade officials to allow him to 
do just that.

"It tickles my fancy that I might be able to make a small living off the 
legal marijuana business," Mollat explained, chuckling at the thought. "The 
Hemp Council doesn't even want to use the word 'marijuana.' But we have the 
law on our side, so why do we have to pussyfoot around?"
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