Attorney General's Office releases medical marijuana guidelines

August 25, 2008

Donna Tam, The Times-Standard

The state Office of the Attorney General released medical marijuana guidelines Monday in hopes of ensuring that Proposition 215 is not abused, providing law enforcement -- as well has patients and caregivers -- a better understanding of the law.

Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the guidelines will protect all parties involved from unnecessary court proceedings.

”Law enforcement officials can better protect themselves, and patients can be better protected from unnecessary arrests, searches and detains,” Simas said, adding that along with the state's identification card program and other local ordinances, the state guidelines will help clear up ambiguity in the laws.

According to the guidelines, qualified patients and primary caregivers may possess up to 8 ounces of dried marijuana, and may maintain no more than six mature plants or 12 immature plants, unless a doctor recommends more.

While the guidelines indicate that law enforcement must honor a state-issued identification card, a person carrying only a local identification card or recommendation from a licensed physician is subject to more scrutiny and seizure.

The office is releasing the guidelines, which includes a section on dispensaries, as Arcata gets ready to finalize its medical marijuana dispensary guidelines at today's planning commission meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 736 F St.

Simas said the attorney general is mandated to come out with the guidelines, but counties can put out local ordinances for business practices. Arcata's proposed guidelines define cooperatives and collectives and also clarify how membership and cultivation should be handled.

Commissioner Paul Hagen said he anticipates that the document will be discussed at the meeting.

”Who knows where the conversation will head,” he said.

Hagen has said in past meetings that the commission would have to address the AG's guidelines when they were released.

”This is very much a moving target,” Hagen said of the ambiguity of SB 420 and Proposition 215. He said he has been very aware that any guidelines produced by the city should be in accordance with state laws.

Noah Mamber, the legal services coordinator for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said the organization has been working very closely with the AG's office on the guidelines and is happy with the outcome.

”I'm so excited at the release of these guidelines. This document will stop unnecessary legal action happening across the state,” he said. Mamber's organization has been providing legal advice to medical marijuana patients about various issues, including wrongful seizure or arrests.

”We expect to see less people wrongly having their medicine confiscated, wrongly being cited and wrongly going to jail,” he said.

The guidelines are available at http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/AG_Guidelines.pdf.

Americans for Safe Access

Tuesdays and Thursday

11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

(888) 929-4367

www.safeacessnow.org

Medical marijuana hotlines help patients navigate legal system

For the last four years, medical marijuana patients have been able to access free legal advice from a national hotline provided by Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit dedicated to helping medical marijuana patients.

The hotline helps patients navigate through the sometimes complicated and ambiguous legal system involving medical marijuana.

Noah Mamber, ASA's legal services coordinator, said the hotline can be very empowering for patients, who are often poor and very sick.

”We help them through that and validate that they're not alone,” Mamber said, adding that the hotline also gets calls from attorneys, doctors and landlords trying to better understand the law that governs patients' legal, medical and growing rights.

”These patients are not only facing biases from the DA or the judge, or the employer, unfortunately these patients are also facing biases from their own public defender or their own lawyers,” Mamber said.

The organization also received questions through fax and e-mail, and averages from about 60 to 90 inquiries a week. To help provide another resource for patients, Mamber has developed a sort of “pick your own adventure” type of FAQ feature on ASA's Web site. The feature asks users a series of questions to help them determine their best plan of action.

Mamber said since March 2004, the hotline has received at least 3,000 calls, with about 2,000 involving law enforcement encounters. But, he said, the hotline also helps patients with other legal issues such as housing, employment, or child custody, and allows ASA to track trends.

While a majority of calls are from California, Mamber said he has received calls from every one of the 11 states that allow medical marijuana.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.

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