Merced man wants medical pot returned

November 22, 2005

Leslie Albrecht, Modesto Bee

People often assume Grant Wilson has AIDS.

But it's the hepatitis C that has whittled his 6-foot frame to 130 pounds.

"It has been eating me alive from the inside out," said Wilson, 49.

In his effort to get healthy enough to take care of his three children, Wilson has been using medical marijuana.

"It helps me get the munchies," said Wilson. "My doctor wants me to put some weight on my body so my immune system can fight back and my liver can regenerate."

But when Merced police discovered Wilson's pot plants in September, they arrested him on suspicion of cultivating marijuana, a felony.

After five days in jail, Wilson was released when the district attorney's office decided not to prosecute.

Wilson wants his pot plants back.

No way, says Merced Police Chief Tony Dossetti.

"The United States Supreme Court is the one that sets the law for everyone in the country," Dossetti said. "Until the federal law is changed, I can't give him back his marijuana. We are citizens of the United States who happen to live in California."

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

However, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year held that federal laws prohibiting the use of medical marijuana remain in effect regardless of state laws.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said medical marijuana is still legal no matter what the Supreme Court says.

Wilson said a judge's court order and his medical marijuana patient ID card authorize him to grow and possess marijuana.

"It's not like I'm one of these guys that's trying to pull one over on somebody," Wilson said. "I'm a true patient. I got my prescription from a gastroenterologist and hematologist.

"I'm not one of these guys that stubbed my toe and said, 'Can I get a card?'"

But Wilson has a diagnosis, not a prescription, from his doctor, Dossetti said, and his patient ID card, issued by San Francisco's Department of Public Health, isn't valid in Merced County.

"He doesn't comply with state law," Dossetti said.

To Wilson, it's the police who are breaking state law.

"I would like my property back," Wilson said. "It's illegal for them to do this."

He has filed an appeal with the Merced County Superior Court to try to force police to return his marijuana.

"This is a classic conflict between federal and state rights," Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse said. "The state of California has approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons. But the feds still forbid the possession of marijuana. They don't recognize state statutes. That trickles down to the counties, who are left to sort this out."

As for Wilson, "He's caught in a whipsaw between agencies as to how it's being resolved," Morse said.

Wilson has been drinking a lot of Ensure nutrition shakes to try to get his weight up. He also takes herbs like milk thistle to help his liver. Every two weeks, he goes to the hospital for a blood cell count.

"I'm stuck in limbo until some new medicine comes up or I start gaining weight and my body builds up my liver," Wilson said. "By locking me up and taking away my medicine, they're not helping me any."

For now, Dossetti said, police hands are tied.

"We've got federal law that says we can't do it, state law says we can," Dossetti said. "If I give his marijuana back, the DEA could come and arrest me.

"I struggle because I see both sides of the argument. I have compassion for these people who are sick. But we're in a position where we can't let emotion rule us. We have to do what the law says."

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