Pubdate: Tue, 26 May 2009
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Page: B1
Copyright: 2009 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Jeff McDonald, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Referenced: The Attorney General's guidelines
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


With the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal last week to consider San Diego 
County's lawsuit against state medical-marijuana laws, local 
officials appear poised to begin offering identification cards to 
qualified patients.

The government-issued ID will help protect patients, activists say, 
but without a law enforcement-approved way to distribute medical 
marijuana, sick and dying people still face the threat of arrest and 

Not only that, but a growing number of storefront medical-marijuana 
dispensaries in San Diego will likely test the tolerance that police 
and prosecutors have for providers of the drug.

"We've had our physician's recommendations all these years, which is 
all we need, and they have ignored those," said Richard Hertz, a 
patient and provider who was charged with illegal drug sales this 
year. "So a state-issued card probably won't make any difference."

Others are more optimistic. They hope the ID cards are the first step 
by officials to embrace medical marijuana, which was approved by 56 
percent of California voters in 1996.

"It's not a complete remedy, but it will help quite a bit," said Rudy 
Reyes, who became an advocate of medical marijuana after being 
severely burned in the 2003 Cedar fire. "Right now the local cop is 
literally allowed to come after me and say, 'You're no better than a 
recreational user' because I don't have a card."

Reyes, who regularly argues in favor of medical marijuana before the 
Board of Supervisors and San Diego City Council, said patients need 
more than ID from the government.

"There has to be a way for people to acquire their medicine without 
having to go on the street," he said.

Steve Walter, who oversees the narcotics unit for District Attorney 
Bonnie Dumanis, said storefront dispensaries are not allowed. Walter 
said the demise of the county's lawsuit will not change much.

"I have yet to see (a dispensary or collective) that does comply with 
the attorney general's guidelines," Walter said. "I have yet to see 
one that doesn't make a profit."

The state guidelines allow marijuana suppliers to charge enough money 
to recover their costs. They also encourage counties to develop more 
specific local rules governing medical marijuana.

San Diego County never implemented the medical-marijuana laws. 
Instead, officials elected to fight the legislation in court and 
crack down on providers and dispensaries.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Even though marijuana is 
permitted for medicinal use in California, the state law is vague 
about how patients may access or transport the drug.

Last year, the state Attorney General's Office issued guidelines 
aimed at clarifying how legitimate patients may grow and distribute 
the drug, but some counties remain more tolerant than others.

Marijuana dispensaries are permitted in Los Angeles, Oakland, San 
Francisco and elsewhere. Drug agents in San Diego County have 
routinely raided storefronts and uprooted collective marijuana gardens.

Once they are arrested, many medical-pot defendants plead guilty to 
lesser charges to avoid the possibility of prison - including Hertz. 
A handful of suspects arrested in a February raid plan to take their 
chances with a jury.

"If the card program had been in place, there would be regulations to 
avoid situations like that," said Eugene Davidovich, a software 
developer who was charged with selling a quarter-ounce of marijuana 
to a drug agent posing as a medical-marijuana patient.

"I'm afraid of going to prison," said Davidovich, who lost his job 
and now faces a June 8 hearing. "I don't believe I've done anything 
to deserve it."

Two dispensaries opened in San Diego this month. According to one Web 
site, the count is more than 20 storefronts and a dozen delivery services.

Sean Grady, who opened the Pacific Beach Collective two weeks ago, 
said ID cards will make a big difference in educating police and 
public officials about medical marijuana.

"We're here to try and get safe access to patients," said Grady, who 
insists he followed state guidelines to the letter. "Our biggest 
opponent is education. I don't know that everybody is as informed as 
they could be about the situation."



Background: San Diego County supervisors decided to sue in 2005 
rather than implement state medical-marijuana laws. Last week, the 
U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the county's final appeal.

What's changing: County officials appear poised to begin issuing 
government identification to qualified medical-marijuana patients - a 
mandate from state lawmakers.

The future: Medical-marijuana advocates hope the court setback and 
identification cards will prompt local officials to develop clear 
rules governing the distribution of medical marijuana in San Diego County. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake