Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2003
Source: San Diego City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Diego City Beat.
Author: Kelly Davis
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


San Diego County Public Defender Juliana Humphrey spent a year
defending a woman charged with possessing 17 "scraggly" marijuana
plants, the source of relief for the woman's persistent migraines. The
case, said Humphrey, was eventually thrown out, but not after a year's
worth of anxiety had taken its toll on her client.

Humphrey said the case taught her a lot about the efficacy of medical
marijuana. She ended up heading the city's medical marijuana task
force, formed in May 2001, charged with drawing up citywide guidelines
to alleviate qualified patients' fear of being prosecuted for
possession and to better inform law enforcement of which individuals
are allowed to have marijuana and from whom a qualified patient can
obtain it.

Like many state initiatives, Prop. 215-the medical marijuana
initiative approved by voters in 1996-was vaguely worded, failing to
detail how much pot qualified patients and caregivers can possess,
both in dried and plant form. That vagueness has resulted in confusion
and, oftentimes, undue police searches and subsequent

In February, the San Diego City Council approved a set of guidelines
allowing a patient to legally possess 1 pound of marijuana and 24
indoor plants. (Based on its research, the task force wanted it to be
3 pounds and 20 outdoor or 72 indoor plants). Caregivers-those
qualified to provide marijuana to patients-can have on hand 12 pounds
of pot and up to 90 plants.

"Guidelines," explained Humphrey, "provide patients with a safe harbor
so police don't prosecute whomever." Guidelines also let people know
ahead of time-rather than after an encounter with police-what's
expected of them, she added.

So far San Diego is the only city in the county that has approved
medical pot guidelines. For doing so, the City Council drew the ire of
the county Board of Supervisors, who condemned the city for its action.

While the supervisors have no jurisdiction over action taken by the
City Council, their position on medical cannabis sets a tone-one that
medical marijuana supporters hope can be righted by the county's top
law enforcer.

Nearing the end of her seventh month in office, District Attorney
Bonnie Dumanis has yet to take a strong position on medical marijuana,
preferring instead to evaluate any potential prosecution of patients
on a case-by-case basis. At this point, she said in a statement
provided to CityBeat, she's not prepared to draft a set of countywide
guidelines but plans to study the issue.

During her campaign, Dumanis distinguished herself from incumbent Paul
Pfingst by saying she believes a DA should develop guidelines for law
enforcement to follow in cases involving medical marijuana. And, last
week during a joint press conference with federal Drug Czar John
Walters, here to promote the President's stepped-up war on drugs,
Dumanis, when asked by a reporter how she plans to handle medical
marijuana cases that come her way, diplomatically stated that it's her
job to uphold California law.

Damon Mosler, the head of the DA's newly formed narcotics division,
said that though his boss hasn't pinned down exact guidelines, there's
an inner-office policy as to what sort of cases get prosecuted.
"There's no way someone who has AIDS or cancer is going to get
arrested for having marijuana," he said. "Most of the time when the
police get involved, there's a search warrant that's based on other
activity, and it could be sales."

Mosler said he plans to meet with Humphrey this week to discuss
whether guidelines are necessary-Humphrey said she's going to
encourage the DA to get some sort of policy out to the public.

Mosler said that during his tenure with Dumanis, he's only seen five
or six medical marijuana-related cases. The biggest issue, he said, is
not unnecessary arrests of medical marijuana patients but instead
police confiscating pot and plants and electing for lawyers to sort
out whether a patient is qualified to possess marijuana and how much.
Unlike other law enforcement in the county, San Diego police now have
guidelines, courtesy of the City Council, to inform their decisions.

One of the cases on Mosler's desk involves Dion Markgraaff. Last
December, the 33-year-old was visited by a couple dozen San Diego
police officers who confiscated 2 pounds of marijuana and, Markgraaff
estimates, 50 to 70 plants. Police also found and confiscated more
than $12,000 in cash, $11,000 of which belonged to Markgraaff's
roommate, a musician and promoter who, Markgraaff said, gets paid in

Markgraaf started up the city's first medical cannabis club in 1997
(it was shut down in 1998), and is both a qualified caregiver and
patient. He said he's found that marijuana relieves the nerve pain and
nausea caused by Type 1 diabetes. Markgraaff's roommate also has a
doctor's recommendation to use marijuana.

Under the city's guidelines-voted in two months after Markgraaff's
home was raided-the amount of pot he and his roommate possessed was
well within what's allowed. It's the cash-which points to drug
sales-that's kept Mosler debating whether or not to recommend the DA
press charges.

Markgraaff-who incidentally worked on Dumanis' campaign-told CityBeat
that he wasn't selling pot. Well-versed in the legal ins and outs of
medical marijuana, Markgraaff said he's met with Mosler and got the
sense Dumanis' office could benefit from an education in medical
marijuana. "With the change of power from Pfingst to Dumanis, there
hasn't been any indication about what, as far as numbers, how much
people can have, how many plants they can grow," he said.

"Basically, from my meeting with Mosler, he's starting from the ground
floor as far as knowing anything about [medical marijuana]." However,
Markgraaff added that he was impressed with Mosler's openness and
willingness to learn.
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