Pubdate: Sun, 25 July 1999
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Marin Independent Journal
Contact:  150 Alameda del Prado, Novato, CA 94949
Author: Richard Halstead


Advocates of marijuana as medicine remain at odds with Marin police over
Proposition 215 as county officials grope for guidelines on the medical
marijuana law.

"It's a big freaking mess," said Capt. Dennis McQueeny, who heads the
sheriff's Major Crimes Task Force.

Marijuana advocates point to several arrests, including that of Jerry
Knight last summer, to illustrate their complaints. Marin sheriff's
deputies confiscated 25 marijuana plants from Knight's Forest Knolls home,
but charges were dismissed after Knight produced a doctor's recommendation. 

Prosecutors then amended the complaint, charging Knight with felony
possession of morphine and codeine because he had dried poppy stalks --
similar to those sold in local floral shops. District Attorney Paula Kamena
ordered all charges dropped after she took office in January.

"We have a big problem with the sheriff's office," said Lynnette Shaw,
founder of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax.
"Proposition 215 won. We won and they didn't. When are they going to stop
hurting sick people?"

The Marin Alliance keeps a register of 850 members whom doctors have
certified as qualified to use pot for medical reasons. The organization
also helps members with legal assistance if they are arrested. A federal
lawsuit has forced it to stop distributing pot to members -- at least

Law enforcement officials remain skeptical. They believe some people are
taking advantage of the law to grow marijuana for profit.

"Everybody says it's for medical purposes. How do you disprove it?" said
Capt. McQueeny. 

"They hoodwinked the California voters and made them think it was for all
these sick and dying people, and it's baloney," he said. "It's just a giant
smokescreen. There are just people out there who want it legalized." 

Confusion Reigns

More than two years since Prop 215 passed, the Marin County District
Attorney's Office has yet to come up with a firm policy on how sheriff's
deputies and local police should be enforcing marijuana violations,
although one is in the works, McQueeny said.

Confusion on how Proposition 215 should be interpreted also reigns at the
state level.

Last week, newly elected Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced he was
endorsing a statewide registration system -- similar to the one started in
Marin in 1997 -- to protect qualified patients and growers from
prosecution. Two days later, Gov. Gray Davis's press secretary said the
governor would be "hard pressed" to sign a bill by Sen. John Vasconcellos,
D-Santa Clara, designed to implement the system.

"Federal law still makes marijuana illegal," said Davis' press secretary
Michael Bustamante. "We'll just have to see how it plays out in the
legislative process." 

Rand Martin, Vasconcellos' chief of staff, said the senator will go forward
with his bill, regardless.

The federal government has taken a tough stand on Prop. 215. Soon after its
passage, U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey suggested doctors could face
federal retaliation for recommending pot.

Then in May 1998, the U.S. Justice Department filed civil suits to force
the closure of the Marin Alliance and five similar medical marijuana clubs
in Northern California. Even though the case is still pending before U.S.
District Judge Charles Breyer, only two of the clubs remain open today: the
Marin Alliance and a Ukiah club.

No Guidelines

The Vasconcellos bill was written using advice from a 30-member task force
of police, prosecutors and marijuana advocates.

"Unfortunately, 215 was so poorly written that it provided virtually no
guidelines," said Tiburon Police Chief Peter Herley, who represented the
California Police Chiefs Association on the task force. Although police
chiefs still want some changes in the bill, they support a registration
system, Herley said. 

The bill would create an identity card that would be issued to individuals
whose physicians certified they suffered from a serious medical condition,
including AIDS, anorexia, chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, migraines, severe
nausea or persistent muscle spasms.

Those issued a card would be free to possess, transport or grow marijuana
- -- provided the amount was not too large. Just how much pot people would be
allowed to possess would be established later by state regulation.

Quantity An Issue

Quantity is one of the thorny issues that has delayed Marin's development
of an enforcement policy, said District Attorney Paula Kamena. She has been
meeting for months with representatives of the Sheriff's Office, local
police departments, the California Highway Patrol and the county health
department trying to pound out an enforcement protocol.

The District Attorney's Office has been reluctant to prosecute individuals
who can produce a doctor's recommendation and proof of membership in a
medical marijuana club. County supervisors even created a registration
program to legitimize medical use and discourage prosecution.

Nevertheless, the Marin County Sheriff's Office and some local police
departments have found the situation hard to swallow, Shaw says. 

McQueeny acknowledges that it is difficult turning a blind eye to pot
smokers and growers, even if they have a note from their doctor. "It's
tough because we still get complaints about it," McQueeny said. "What are
we supposed to say? 'Sorry sir, we don't handle that anymore.' "

"We're caught in the middle," said Twin Cities Police Cpt. Mike Casteen.

A year ago, Twin Cities police arrested Robert Voelker, a Greenbrae cement
mason, after confiscating about 30 marijuana plants growing near his
trailer home. But the District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute
Voelker, a Marin Alliance member who says he smokes pot to cope with
chronic back pain.

Voelker then filed a $30,000 claim against the police to get his plants
back and a $5,000 small claims suit. The first was denied by the city; the
second rejected by a judge.

Voelker says he grows his own pot because he can't afford black market
prices. "I'm a blue-collar guy. Who can afford to pay $60 for an eighth of
an ounce?" he asked.

Casteen says if Voelker grows that many plants again, he "will be prosecuted."

Allegations Denied

Marin Alliance's Shaw says many local police departments -- including those
in Fairfax, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Mill Valley and Novato -- call her
organization before arresting individuals for pot use. Twin Cities is one
of the exceptions.

"We're not taking a hard line; we're trying to occupy the middle ground,"
Casteen said.

McQueeny denies allegations by Shaw and others that he and other law
enforcement officials have targeted individuals whom they have been unable
to convince the District Attorney's Office to prosecute.

McQueeny said the poppy charges against Knight wasn't his idea. "That was
something the district attorney did. We weren't pursuing that," McQueeny said.

The county's certification program -- the brainchild of Supervisors Steve
Kinsey and John Kress and former county health director Thomas Peters --
has failed to attract more than a dozen applicants. And there has been a
troubling link between those who applied and people who were later
arrested. Of eight people who sought a county certificate, four were
arrested and another had his plants confiscated, Shaw said.

Law Enforcement

So far, no one has been able to explain the correlation. "Law enforcement
is not privy to who applies," Kamena said. "I would suspect it was

Not all members of the medical marijuana community, however, believe law
enforcement in the county is a problem.

Les and Daurice McKay, who operate a 20-member medical marijuana
cooperative called Marin Rx, say they've had no problems with either the
local police department where they live or the Sheriff's Office, both of
which they've notified of their activities. The McKays were evicted from
their last residence because they were growing pot there. They won't say
where in Marin they are located now.

"If you show them you're responsible and not out to get rich off this,
they're behind you 100 percent," said Les McKay, who suffers from cancer.
Marin Rx members grow all their own pot and do not buy from outside
growers, McKay said. The organization does not maintain a storefront, as
does the Marin Alliance.

McKay said he accepts only people with cancer or AIDS as members. He frowns
on people who use marijuana to treat other problems, such as "depression,
headaches, menopause or stubbed toes."

"It's an excuse to smoke marijuana," McKay said. "You could get the same
effect by having a glass of zinfandel."
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