Does raid constitute harassment of medical marijuana patients?

January 17, 2006

EDITORIAL, Orange County Register

In the case of Legal Ease, a medical marijuana dispensary raided last week by Tustin, Calif., police, either charges should be filed quickly or the property of the proprietors should be returned immediately.

Police raided Legal Ease with a search warrant based on the fact that undercover police officers had been able to purchase marijuana using phony doctors' notes. As we have seen in two other recent California cases, weeks can pass after a raid and no charges filed, leaving the dispensary and patients in limbo. The Tustin police and Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's office should act expeditiously.

Tustin Lt. Jim Peery said, "This was nothing more than drug dealers using a storefront as opposed to selling out of the back of the van." The police say several undercover police officers went into the dispensary and successfully bought marijuana each time, even though their doctors' notes were fictitious. Lt. Peery said he wasn't sure what phony "doctor's office" number was available to call on the undercover officers' notes, but he assumed it was somebody at the police department.

The police said that they saw apparently healthy people obtaining marijuana at Legal Ease. We wonder where these investigators got their medical training, and how they are able to diagnose people simply by looking at them.

Philip Denney, a physician who writes recommendations for the medical use of marijuana, as authorized by state law, told us that while he can't speak for how Legal Ease handled patients from other doctors, their staff members did call regularly to verify his referrals. However, "even an imperfect dispensary," he said, "is better than patients buying from a dealer with a bag of cocaine in his other pocket." He fears that actions such as the raid on Legal Ease will force many patients to rely on the black market, when California voters and the state Legislature have voted to create a legal market for patients who use marijuana under medical supervision.

That's why it's important to watch carefully whether charges are filed in the Legal Ease case.

Proposition 215, which California voters approved in 1996, did not eliminate state laws against using or selling marijuana for nonmedical purposes.

Thus, if Legal Ease was simply selling to people who did not have valid physician recommendations it may be justifiably subject to legal penalties.

If no charges are filed, however, the case then looks not just like simple harassment but perhaps even an effort to nullify the medical marijuana law California voters approved. Notably, no charges yet have been filed after a Dec. 20 raid in San Francisco and a Dec. 12 raid in San Diego.

County supervisors should direct the county health agency to get busy setting up a voluntary identification card system for medical marijuana patients, as directed by state law, and convene a panel, as the city of San Diego did years ago, to explore the medical and legal issues and develop guidelines.

Patients, doctors and the police deserve to have a better idea than they do now about what the law permits and doesn't permit.

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