Pubdate: Mon, 23 Apr 2001
Source: Union, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Nevada County Publishing, Inc.
Author: Doug Mattson


Marijuana plants were on display Saturday at the Center for the Arts in 
Grass Valley for attendees of the Medical Marijuana School to examine and 
smell. Ben Furtado Maruschka Schipanski, hunched over and shuffling behind 
a walker, eased through Saturday's packed crowd at the Center for the Arts.

The 69-year-old Grass Valley woman has a degenerative spinal condition and 
takes marijuana for pain relief. She used to take "lots of heavy 
medications that were just tearing up my body."

She received a doctor's recommendation for marijuana, but she often has a 
hard time finding the drug.

"I'm glad they have it. It's so much more natural, and I think we need to 
get moving on people getting what they need," she said.

Politically, she appeared to be on the same page with many of the 1,000 
people who organizers say visited the one-day Medical Marijuana School, put 
on by the American Medical Marijuana Association.

The school included discussions for doctors, prospective patients, would-be 
growers and activists. Some rallied for better access to medical marijuana 
without law enforcement interference, and for preservation of the 
Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

"I think this is great - revolutionary," said Lance Brown of Nevada City, 
one of the AMMA organizers. "People are taking notes just like in a regular 

Visitors could also take a test, which included such questions as: George 
Washington grew hemp - true or false? The answer is true.

Many test-takers, according to event volunteer Debbie Dean of North 
Columbia, didn't realize another factoid - the federal government grows its 
own marijuana.

It also provides the drug to eight patients through a program that's being 
phased out. The first woman patient, Elvy Mussika of Orangevale, attended 
Saturday. Born with cataracts and blind in one eye, she said marijuana 
relieves her glaucoma.

"Marijuana is medicine, and we will have the medicine no matter what - 
whether it's illegal or not," she said.

Dr. Mollie Fry of Cool is a breast cancer survivor and a marijuana patient 
who has met with thousands of other such patients. She urged people to join 
the Million Marijuana March on May 6 in Sacramento.

Several patients puffed on joints outside the rear exit, and the pungent 
smell of marijuana stewing in a crock pot permeated the entrance. How-to 
books on cooking and baking with marijuana were for sale.

Brown said law enforcement from Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties were 
invited, but as far as he knew, only Nevada County District Attorney Mike 
Ferguson and Placer County Assistant DA Chris Cattran appeared.

Brown said Grass Valley police stayed away, and three pot plants on display 
remained on display.

To a standing-room-only crowd of about 80, Martin Webb of Penn Valley used 
the plants to discuss growing techniques - from identifying the female 
plant, which produces the active ingredient - tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC 
- - to the proper harvest time.

Webb figures teaching patients to grow their own marijuana can save them 
nearly $4,000 a year.

John Cassatt is a San Juan Ridge resident facing marijuana cultivation 
charges after narcotics agents seized 386 immature plants - beyond the 
county's 10-plant limit - at his home last summer.

He said he needs that many plants to produce two pounds of marijuana, 
because some plants succumb to deer and pests, and others are male and do 
not produce the active ingredient. He accused agents of busting him to gain 
federal dollars. His trial is scheduled for July.

"This is very energizing to me personally," he said of the gathering. "I 
think the government is going to respond."

Brown said the AMMA is considering holding a similar event next year. Other 
schools will be held in different counties.


Nevada County's top prosecutor and a leading medical marijuana activist 
didn't exactly share a peace pipe Saturday. But they cleared the air on a 
few key issues during a gathering of about 1,000 people in Grass Valley.

District Attorney Mike Ferguson and Steve Kubby were among several Medical 
Marijuana School panelists, and both left agreeing that many patients pay 
too much for the drug and some of it winds up on the black market.

Ferguson, noting he was asked to take part only a day earlier, told a 
packed crowd, "I felt kind of like Daniel being invited into the lion's den."

That drew laughter, but he was also heckled when he compared Nevada 
County's guidelines - which allow patients two pounds of processed 
marijuana and 10 plants that can yield two pounds - with other counties.

Guidelines vary, Ferguson said, and many counties permit less marijuana.

"What's your point?" a crowd member asked.

"My point is, we're all over the place on this," he said.

Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act passed by voters in 1996, never 
addressed how much pot a patient can grow, and that's led to excess 
marijuana getting sold illegally, Ferguson said.

But his perspective has changed, he said, from discussions with patients, 
including Kubby and a cancer-stricken friend in the Bay Area. He said he 
was also taken aback by the drug's street price.

"Right on!" one crowd member said.

"That's what we want to hear!" said another.

"I'm hear to learn," Ferguson said before gaining applause, "so bear with 
me, because there are two sides to an issue."

Later, Kubby, puffing on a joint behind the Center for the Arts, praised 

"He's one of the very few DAs who wants to listen to patients instead of 
conspiring with their law enforcement buddies," he said.

A cancer patient and former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Kubby 
helped put Proposition 215 on the ballot. In 1999 he and his wife were 
arrested at their Squaw Valley home as narcotics agents seized 250 plants.

A Placer County jury acquitted him last month of all marijuana charges 
after a lengthy trial that became a rallying point for activists. He was 
found guilty of having psilocybin mushrooms and hallucinogenic cactus buds, 
but those felonies were reduced to misdemeanors.

Kubby has since helped launch a recall petition against Placer County DA 
Bradford Fenoccio.

"The only people who have trouble understanding medical marijuana are those 
who have jobs that depend on their not understanding it," he said. "Medical 
marijuana is not difficult for voters to understand. ... Medical marijuana 
is not difficult for juries to understand."

Among several people smoking marijuana behind the arts center, Kubby said 
his plans include attending more schools, working with activists in Canada, 
where he now resides, and opening a medical marijuana museum - possibly in 
Grass Valley or Auburn.

Such a museum, he said, would "allow the public, law enforcement and 
legislators to see medical marijuana growing behind glass."
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