Patients make case for pot

October 01, 2007

Gerald Carroll, Visalia Times-Delta (CA)

Visalia Compassionate Caregivers have suspended their long-standing practice of quietly dispensing marijuana to patients as a result of the city's nuisance-ticket ordinance.

"We were going to be charged $100 for the first offense, then $200, then $500," said Jeff Nunes, who manages the Caregivers office and its Visalia-based support organization, Medicinal Marijuana Awareness and Defense. "And $500 again and again. We can't afford that."

So to "keep from going bankrupt," as Nunes put it, he shut down the Caregivers side of his offices at 209 W. Main St. in Visalia — but kept open MMAD's educational office, which is next door.

"We will do the best we can to refer our patients to alternate places where they can get their medication," Nunes said. Dispensaries exist in the city of Tulare but patients say they are badly run and look dangerous, like "doing drug deals."

"It's safe here [at Caregivers]," said patient Shane Maroon of Squaw Valley, who has suffered chronic pain for years and cannot tolerate regular medicines.

Maroon was part of a parade of patients who told the council they suffered from painful conditions untreatable by standard medicines.

"The smoke is all I got, and I'm not going to let go of it," said Anthony Blackwolf, who said he suffers constant pain without regular doses of marijuana.

The actual closing in Visalia was Saturday, Nunes told the Visalia City Council during the public comment segment Monday at City Hall.

"That's right," confirmed Tim Burns, head of Visalia's neighborhood preservation department. "We have not closed any office. It's just that medical marijuana can no longer be distributed from that location."

The fact that medical marijuana was being dispensed from the downtown Visalia office was news to Councilman Don Landers.

"We were under the impression [Caregivers] was educational," Landers said.

Burns said that, in 2005, the city did agree to grant Nunes a "tenant improvement permit" to operate his office for the "distribution of educational materials and conventional office uses."

Earlier this year, the following sequence of events unfolded:

  • May 23: Visalia police reported that Nunes was dispensing marijuana from the location.
  • June 25: The neighborhood preservation department issued a 30-day "formal notice" of violation of the 2005 terms.
  • Aug. 27: Representatives from Burns' group, the Visalia Police Department and Visalia's planning division met to see if Nunes' location could be moved. An extension was granted until Oct. 1.
  • Sept. 10-14: Nunes tried and failed to find another location for Caregivers.
  • Sept. 20: Burns called Nunes and "left a voicemail" reminding him of the Oct. 1 deadline for the stoppage of medical marijuana distribution.
  • Sept. 21: Nunes said he would comply.
  • Sept. 29: The location on West Main Street ceased medical marijuana distribution, but remained open for advice, information, referrals and education, Nunes said.

    City attorney Alex Peltzer said there is nothing the council can do at present, but that "administrative" means can be used to try and reach an agreement with Nunes' group.

    Councilman Greg Kirkpatrick said that he voted in favor of Proposition 215 and asked that some measure of compassion be shown to Nunes' efforts.

    Mayor Jesus Gamboa said that "we haven't shut anyone down yet" but that a settlement of the issue and any reopening of Caregivers "will take time" to sort out.

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