Pubdate: Sat, 20 Aug 2011
Source: Hanford Sentinel, The (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Lee Newspapers
Author: Seth Nidever


Marijuana became a hot Kings County issue this month - literally, in
one instance.

After Armona neighbors complained about a large growth of the tall,
psychoactive plants behind a house on Walnut Street, Kings County
Sheriff's deputies cut down the plants and burned them. The "farmer,"
Danny Lane, had a legal right to grow them, but was in violation
because the plot was illegally placed on Southern Pacific Railroad

That was on Aug. 10.

Earlier this month, on Aug. 3, sheriff's deputies, apparently acting
on a neighborhood tip, investigated a 100-plant grow in north Hanford
that was being legally cultivated in somebody's backyard for medical

And in a related action, on Aug. 2, Kings County supervisors approved
a 45-day ban on new medical marijuana pot shops to give county staff
time to craft a medical marijuana ordinance.

Officers used to run into purely illegal grows. The solution was
simple: Burn them down and arrest those responsible.

It's not that easy anymore.

What started in 1996 when California voters legalized medical
marijuana has turned into a growing dilemma for cities and counties
concerned about possible abuse, criminality and safety worries. Kings
County residents have appeared at hearings expressing their opposition
to medical pot shops, but they didn't cite any specific evidence of
increased criminal activity.

Statistics for just how much crime might be associated with medical
marijuana grows and dispensaries are hard to come by. But as the
number of legal grows has multiplied, the legal picture has gotten
murkier. Much of the confusion stems from the legal tangle that has
resulted from the state law. Federal law still considers any marijuana
to be an illegal drug, no matter what the intended use. That leaves
California's medical pot dispensaries operating in a gray area that
hasn't been fully resolved.

The issue cropped up in Fresno County last week when supervisors there
voted to close all medical marijuana dispensaries, forbid grows in
residential areas and limit cultivation to a few indoor industrial

Opponents say the restrictions will make it virtually impossible to
legally grow or dispense any marijuana. Several are planning to sue
Fresno County if the ordinance isn't modified, arguing that
California's medical marijuana laws allow for legal growing to meet
patients' legitimate medical needs.

Though it has become a bigger issue in Fresno, with approximately 14
dispensaries located there compared to only one in Kings County, a
similar showdown is brewing in the Hanford area after the Aug. 2 vote.
Several dispensaries have expressed interest in coming to the area.
County planners are working on new regulations that could restrict or
even ban medical marijuana dispensaries and grows in Kings County
outright, much like its neighbor to the north.

Local officials are wrestling to come up with a rule that can pass
legal muster.

"It's a huge topic," said Kings County Planner Chuck Kinney. "I think
it has all the local jurisdictions greatly concerned at this point."

In the tumultuous debate earlier this month in Fresno, medical
marijuana supporters vowed to fight the Fresno County ordinance, which
they say is illegal.

William Logan, a lawyer for Gray Sky Alternative Medicine Collective -
an East Lacey Boulevard dispensary and the only one operating locally
- - said any attempt to shut down the shop would be unconstitutional and
a direct violation of California's legal medical marijuana laws.

The law is clear that dispensaries are legal, he said. "It's a
political issue," Logan said. "They don't want the 'devil weed' in

"If they were illegal, the courts would have said so," said Logan, who
represents Gray Sky and several other dispensaries in California.

For law enforcement, the issue can cause problems. With plenty of
illegal marijuana to deal with, it can be tough for on-the-beat
officers to verify that somebody is legitimately using, growing or
selling pot for medical uses.

In the case of the recent pot grow discovered at the home in north
Hanford, sheriff's deputies verified that the three people living at
the residence had valid marijuana cards and were legally allowed to
grow the plants. But officers say it can sometimes be tough to clarify
whether it's legal or not.

"You don't know," said sheriff's Cmdr. Robert Thayer. "It's complex
and difficult to have the best discernment. On the other side of the
fence, marijuana is still illegal to those who don't have a
prescription. There's still a criminal element side."

"You're kind of putting your ear to the ground to wait and see what
direction the courts are going to go," Thayer added.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.