CHP takes right stand on Prop. 215

October 28, 2006

Phil Strickland, Columnist, North County Times (CA)

The ridiculous battle continues throughout the state regarding the application of Proposition 215, which legalizes the distribution and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

It was 10 years ago that California voters passed the landmark legislation that has come to be law in 10 other states. And still, we argue about it. Up and down the state, in courts and on the streets, medical marijuana remains a lively issue. Federal agents and local authorities marshal their forces to raid marijuana cooperatives and dispensaries from San Francisco to San Diego and many cities and counties refuse to issue identification cards as required by SB 420. Even so, if you support Prop. 215, there have been some bright spots -- though not in Southwest County. Not only has the legality of possessing medical marijuana been affirmed in court, the return of seized pot was ordered.

And, a state administrative court ruled in September that low-income medical-marijuana users who receive state public assistance may qualify for reimbursement for the cost of medical cannabis. At least there's some benefit to being poor and sick.

As for ID cards, 22 of the state's 58 counties are in the process of issuing them and to almost top it all off, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest government-workers union, passed a resolution in August at its national convention in Chicago endorsing access to medical marijuana.

But there's even better news for supporters, and though it is more than a year old, unless you're personally interested in the topic, you more than likely missed it.

You, as a patient, can be driving down Interstate 15 in Southwest County with 8 ounces of the healing herb in baggies sitting on the seat next to you and get pulled over by the Highway Patrol without fear of being arrested for possession or having the pot seized.

Important tip: Don't try this without a prescription from your physician in your possession.

You read right. If you've made it from the dispensary to an interstate, you're home free until you exit the highway to go home, at which point you become vulnerable to local and/or federal authorities in our fair region.

The agreement was reached with the California Highway Patrol in August 2005 after a lawsuit was filed against the agency by Americans for Safe Access, a medical-marijuana advocacy group. The suit followed a survey by the organization that found the CHP was the most frequent violator of the law.

It probably helped that state Attorney General Bill Lockyer sent a memo affirming that medical marijuana use is sanctioned by state law despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The policy was made binding last week when a consent decree was signed by CHP officials and counsel for Lockyer and Gov. Schwarzenegger.

So, here it is: You can possess 8 ounces or 6 mature plants or 12 youngsters ---ñ more if you're someplace that allows quantities in excess of state law ---- without fear, as long as you're on an interstate and have a prescription.

Meanwhile, officials in Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties remain combined in a wasteful lawsuit to protect us from the collapse of society certain to follow the establishment of medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Boy, there's your tax dollars being well-spent. And, as long as we're talking tax dollars at work, don't forget all the money spent by the feds and local authorities raiding and closing down cooperatives and dispensaries. Thanks, guys.

Just think, if our protectors would spend that money and those resources fighting, oh, the methamphetamine scourge, society might be a little healthier.

Phil Strickland is a regular columnist for The Californian. E-mail: philipestrickland@yahoo.com.

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