Ten years after California legalized medical marijuana, OC’s war on cannabis continue

May 16, 2007

Nick Schou, OC Weekly

All Richard “Shaggy” Quell and hisgirlfriend wanted to do was shower affection on their wounded cat, Kushy. The pet had just survived an operation after losing a vicious fight with a fellow feline. When they got the call on April 17 that Kushy was ready to go home, they rushed to the veterinarian and returned to their Anaheim apartment at about 7 p.m. Waiting for Quell in the parking lot of his apartment complex was a uniformed Anaheim police officer.

Tipped off by a fellow cop, who smelled something funny when he happened to be at the complex on another call, the officer asked if Quell was growing marijuana in his apartment.

“I said, ‘Yes, but legally,’” Quell says he told the cop. “I’m working for one of the compassionate clubs in Hollywood, Kushmart. I have 70 caregiver slips. That gives me permission to grow six plants per patient, and I have less than 150 plants.”

Although the cop didn’t have a search warrant, Shaggy says he invited him in for a tour of his apartment—and his garage, where the officer discovered 138 flowering plants of high-grade marijuana. Before long, several other cops were taking the tour. Shaggy says the officers quickly determined that all of the pot was in his locked garage and were impressed with his paperwork stating he was growing cannabis for legitimate medical-marijuana patients under California’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215.

In January 2004, the California Legislature passed SB420—aptly named given that 420 is pothead code for getting high—stating that each medical-marijuana patient is allowed to grow, or have grown for them by a caregiver, up to six flowering cannabis plants. Given that Shaggy had 70 patient slips and fewer than half of the 420 total plants those patients were allowed to possess under SB420, he figured he was well within the limits of the law.

A few hours later, one of the cops called the Orange County district attorney’s office. After a brief conversation, the officer told Quell their orders were to confiscate his pot plants, growing lights, patient slips, and even his own doctor’s note saying he was allowed to smoke cannabis. The good news: They were going to leave without arresting him.

“I could tell the officers didn’t want to be there,” Quell says. “One of them said he believed I didn’t think I was breaking the law, and that I was being extremely cooperative. He said that was going in his report.”

The officer in question, Sergeant Tim Miller, supervisor of the Anaheim Police Department’s street narcotics unit, refused to comment on the incident because the case is still ongoing. He said that California’s health and safety code allows “qualified caregivers” to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana or six flowering plants per patient. “Where you run into trouble is whether someone meets the definition of a caregiver,” he says, adding that the law defines one as “an individual who has consistently assumed responsibility for housing, health and safety of a patient.”

The cops left Quell with 138 buckets full of dirt in his garage and the knowledge that if the DA’s office wanted to file charges against him, he’d be receiving his court date in the mail. The pot plants represented an entire crop of medicine that Quell was just weeks away from delivering to Kushmart, the Hollywood club that employed him and paid his rent. Now he has no job and no cash—and he says his girlfriend is about to leave him.

“My whole world is upside-down, he says, adding that he’s desperately seeking legal representation. “It’s been three weeks, and I haven’t heard anything from the DA’s office. That’s why I’m so freaked-out. It’s the fact that I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve had no contact from them. That’s the scariest thing to me: The fact that I don’t know. This has been the worst month of my life.”

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On the same day Anaheim cops took Quell’s pot, the Orange County Board of Supervisors held a hearing on whether to implement a voluntary statewide identification-card program set forth by SB420. The ID cards would supposedly protect legitimate patients from being arrested or having their medicine confiscated by cops. At the hearing, dozens of medical-marijuana advocates urged the board to vote in favor of Supervisor Chris Norby’s resolution to initiate the ID card program, which 33 of California’s 58 counties have already done.

Norby says he’s pushing for ID cards for both legal and humanitarian reasons. “SB420 requires counties to do it,” he says. “And we’re doing it for humanitarian reasons because to deny somebody something that would relieve their agony and pain is cruel.” Norby also hopes that implementing the ID-card program will help build support for changing federal law to support the medical use of marijuana. “If we pass this now, we will help lead the federal government to the right policy,” he says. “This will push the feds to a more enlightened position on this and allow people the full panoply of God’s gifts to relieve their suffering.”

Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 to study Norby’s proposal for the next 90 days. By the time that happened, however, both the OC Sheriff’s Department and the DA’s office had announced they would continue confiscating cannabis from Prop. 215 patients no matter what the supervisors had to say about it.

Assistant Sheriff Steve Bishop, a spokesman for Sheriff Mike Carona, told the supes his department would ignore ID cards and continue its policy of confiscating cannabis and doctor’s prescriptions and forwarding them as evidence to the DA’s office for prosecution. DA Tony Rackauckas showed up in person to denounce medical-marijuana users as lawbreakers who want to “escape from the realities of life and get high for a while.”

Some OC medical-marijuana activists actually agree with Rackauckas and Carona about the wisdom of implementing the voluntary statewide ID-card program—but for entirely different reasons. “They’re not making child molesters get cards, so why should we?” argues Andy Kinnon, a medical-marijuana activist and pastor with the Northern Lights Church in south Orange County. “A lot of people like the cards because it gives you the recognition you need, but others feel it will be turned over the federal government. And it’s not going to stop the cops from confiscating cannabis. This whole thing has gone too far. It’s harassment.”

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