Pubdate: Mon, 10 Dec 2012
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week could drastically cut
the amount of medical marijuana allowed for patients outside city limits.

The board on Tuesday will consider a proposal to get rid of guidelines
the supervisors approved six years ago allowing medical marijuana
patients to have 30 plants and three pounds of dried pot per year.

Instead, the state limit of six mature plants or 12 immature plants
and eight ounces of dried pot per patient is plenty, according to a
proposal by Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Valerie Brown, who led an ad
hoc committee studying the issue.

Zane described Sonoma County's guidelines as "very permissive" and
said they must change to stem a perception that the North Coast is a
safe place to illegally cultivate marijuana.

"We're attracting a lot of people here who want to make a lot of money
quick," Zane said. "This is a very lucrative industry, and it's got a
lot of problems."

The proposal is likely to make the last board meeting of the year --
the final meeting of Brown's career before she leaves her office --
among the most contentious.

Brown could not be reached for comment late Sunday.

The move has enraged some medical cannabis advocates who said the
supervisors requested input from law enforcement but left patients out
of the process, giving them less than a week's notice before the vote.

"It's outrageous," said Kumari Sivadas of Sonoma Alliance for Medical
Marijuana. "If the ordinance is repealed, it would result in a huge
waste of resources. The courts are already packed with marijuana

Tuesday's proposed resolution is the second step in an effort to
overhaul the county's medical marijuana rules in place since 2006.

The board approved the first round of changes in February by limiting
the number of dispensaries in unincorporated Sonoma County to nine.

Zane and Brown will need three additional votes to repeal the 2006
guidelines for cultivation and possession.

Advocates and patients said they will pack the supervisor chambers for
Tuesday's meeting to argue against the new proposal.

"There's a lot of energy about it, there are a lot of emails flying
around," said Robert Jacob, Sebastopol's vice mayor and founder of the
nonprofit Peace In Medicine medical marijuana dispensary.

Tougher limits are more likely to harm patients than criminals, Jacob

"The people who are following the law are going to follow the law, and
the people who are not aren't," Jacob said. "There are two types of
people, and 30 plants to six plants isn't going to change that."

Zane said that the proposal takes aim at those who use the medical
marijuana laws to get away with illegal drug cultivation and sales.

The 30-plant, three-pound limits were adopted in a resolution the
supervisors passed in 2006 and was crafted with input from law
enforcement and medical cannabis advocates.

Zane noted that the proposed resolution includes reference to a 2010
state Supreme Court decision, which she said makes it clear that
"doctors ultimately will have the final say" how much marijuana a
patient requires.

"I want to reassure people providing medical marijuana and those who
need it, whatever their ailment is, there is support for that,
absolutely," Zane said.

The ad hoc committee report on medical marijuana paints in broad
strokes a picture of the marijuana trade's effect on crime and the
environment in the county and state.

Marijuana-related arrests by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office have
steadily increased from 208 in 2006 to more than 500 in 2010,
according to the report.

The Sheriff's Office spends $2 million each year investigating
marijuana-related complaints and violence, the report said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and District Attorney Jill Ravitch
could not be reached Sunday for comment.

Pot cultivation pollutes the environment, represents 3 percent of
electricity use in the state and has led to dangerous land poaching on
private and public lands, according to the report.

But toughening rules and netting more arrests will not stem violence
associated with the illegal drug trade, said medical cannabis
advocates. And the change could bog down the courts with small-time
marijuana cases.

"There's a belief that somehow the county will save money by making
more people illegal, but that's going to cost us more money," Jacob

Jacob and others criticized the county for waiting until six days
before the vote to alert medical cannabis supporters.

County staff sent an email Wednesday outlining the changes proposed to
medical marijuana "stakeholders."

In addition to repealing the 2006 resolution, Zane and Brown are
asking the supervisors to establish an ordinance that would prohibit
the use of unoccupied residential buildings for marijuana

The supervisors also want to establish a countywide marijuana task
force modeled after the methamphetamine task force.

The memo prompted a flurry of emails, phone calls and discussions
among medical marijuana supporters and users.

Defense attorney Omar Figueroa, who co-wrote the Repeal Cannabis
Prohibition Act of 2012, said the process seemed intentionally secretive.

"To me, it sounds like they're trying to slide it in when people are
at their busiest, they think people won't be paying attention,"
Figueroa said.

An array of people, from law enforcement to marijuana users,
collaborated to help the county craft the guidelines that supervisors
passed in 2006.

"When we worked to create the (2006) guidelines, we based it on
science and doctor recommendations," Sivadas said. "There there was a
whole scientific background on why 30 plants was chosen."

But Zane defended the county's process.

"Philosophically, we're going to have to agree to disagree," Zane
said. "We vote on public policy every week and we don't always include

The supervisors' hearing on the proposal to repeal the 2006 resolution
on medical marijuana possession and cultivation is scheduled for 2:30
p.m. Tuesday.
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