Clovis rules allow medical marijuana use

January 04, 2006

Marc Benjamin, Fresno Bee

Gary and Paula Ainsworth have a pain medication that replaces all their prescriptions and the only side effect is that it makes them sleepy.

The problem was that the Clovis couple's cure-all is marijuana.

Today, a new medical marijuana ordinance takes effect in Clovis after more than a year of work by city officials and medical marijuana advocates.

The Ainsworths' problems dealing with the city — their 2003 arrests by Clovis police on growing marijuana — were part of the impetus for an ordinance. The couple were exonerated.

Today, the couple acknowledge they are the poster children for medical marijuana in Clovis.

"If it wasn't for Gary and I being arrested, a lot of people wouldn't have what they have," said Paula Ainsworth, 48, who has bouts with depression and back pain after a car accident. "We are responsible parents raising children."

Doctors prescribed several drugs for her, some to respond to side effects from other drugs. Medical marijuana addresses all her health issues, she said.

The couple have doctor recommendations and are growing plants that they employ in unusual pain-relief mixtures: drinks, cookies, butter and liquid ointment. They also use them in a vaporizer or smoke the drug.

And they have tonics and other labeled products, such as Stoney Rancher lollipops and a drink from Jones 'N Soda Pot Co.

Voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215 to allow ill Californians to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes with a physician's recommendation. There are 11 states with similar laws, but the federal government does not recognize possession or use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Gary Ainsworth, 45, has arthritis and underwent three stomach surgeries after a bout with diverticulitis. He continues to have pain from both.

"When you wake up and the first thing you do is start throwing up, you look for something that works," he said. "I think it's safer than aspirin."

He said he knows about 100 medical marijuana patients in the Fresno area and said the couple tries to act as support for others.

Darin Henley, 40, of Clovis, underwent chemotherapy from June to October for thyroid cancer at Saint Agnes Medical Center and has lost 65 pounds. He often would be unable to get to his east Clovis home after treatments.

"I would start throwing up and I would always head for here," he said, referring to the Ainsworths' home. "I am still dealing with the [chemotherapy] side effects."

Clovis police Capt. Russ Greathouse said police last year went to about 10 calls on medical marijuana issues after the city put a stringent ordinance in place.

"I just don't see anything in this ordinance that is going to now increase calls for service or be a greater degree of enforcement than what we had over the past 12 months," he said.

The new ordinance limits cultivation to six mature plants or 12 immature plants per patient and requires collective cultivation of more than 24 plants in an industrial zone or certain large residential lots exceeding 24,000 square feet. A cooperative must be located in a similar industrial setting and outdoor growing must be in locked enclosures.

The ordinance allows a provider to serve no more than four patients, including relatives who use the drug as a pain medication in the same home. The previous ordinance allowed two patients per provider. The city will allow smoking outdoors if it is out of public view.

"If a person is consuming or medicating in the backyard out of public view, then they are in compliance," Greathouse said. "How we are going to learn about that will be with the public calling us and letting us know."

Medical marijuana users in Clovis are required to show a doctor's recommendation to cultivate the drug.

The ordinance does allow a group of patients to form a cooperative to cultivate marijuana, but places a limit of 99 plants at one location.

Assistant City Attorney David Wolfe said city officials wanted to find a balance between medical needs and potential nuisance issues that sales locations, known as dispensaries, can create.

Wolfe said the city documented problems around dispensaries in other cities, where patients smoked marijuana and congregated and smoked in nearby parks. Other cities have reported rising numbers of people coming to their communities for doctor's recommendations and drugs.

The ordinance was devised, he said, to allow people to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest, but also to deter money from changing hands.

"It's a very strict ordinance, but it does give the opportunity for people to obtain marijuana for medical purposes through a caregiver, family members or true cooperative cultivation as long as people are not being paid," he said. "We don't want somebody to make a business out of it, then it becomes a dispensary."

Bill McPike, a Shaver Lake attorney who represented the Ainsworths in their case with Clovis police, said the city's ordinance can be challenged because it does not allow dispensaries and safe access for medical marijuana users.

Clovis policy is nearly identical to a Fresno ordinance outlawing dispensaries and has been challenged by Americans for Safe Access, a legal aid group for medical marijuana users based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I think they should allow a club or association," McPike said.

Despite his differences, McPike said working out the ordinance with the city of Clovis was helpful.

"I think it was worth the effort because it was educational," he said. "You have law enforcement and elected officials who don't have any idea [about medical marijuana]. All they know is the criminal side."

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