Baker's pot bust bares legal clash

October 05, 2007

Stan Oklobdzija, Sacramento Bee (CA)

Paula Brown used to be the Betty Crocker of medical marijuana in Sacramento.

Her south Sacramento home was the epicenter of confections such as "Bomb Banana Bread" and "Bubblin' Blueberry Muffins," which she baked and sold to about a dozen regular patients who she says use marijuana to ease the pain of various medical ailments.

But about a month ago, Brown came home to find a cavalcade of police cars hauling away her marijuana plants and carting off her cooking supplies, down to the blenders and mixing bowls.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said that Brown, or "Cookey" as she's known to friends, went outside the law in the manufacture of the "Spectacular Munchies" she advertises on her business card.

"The number of plants (deputies) found exceeded the limits of Proposition 215," said Sgt. Tim Curran, the department spokesman, referring to the 1996 voter initiative that allows Californians to obtain marijuana for medicinal purposes with a doctor's recommendation.

Turning the marijuana into "Crazy Krispy Treats" and other food products also violated the law, Curran said.

However, William Panzer, the Oakland attorney who helped craft Proposition 215, said police may have acted outside their authority in shutting down Brown's business.

"There's no difference in marijuana whether you cook it or eat it or smoke it," he said.

Regarding the number of plants, Panzer said that prohibition exists in a gray area of the law -- one he's successfully challenged about a dozen times in counties across the state.

Brown isn't sure what to think, partly, she said, because she can't get anyone from the Sheriff's Department to return her calls.

Having lost at least $20,000 in plants, grow lights and baked goods to the Sheriff's Department, Brown said she's effectively out of business and her 14 clients are without medicine.

"As far as I'm concerned, they just robbed me," she said.

On Aug. 31, deputies conducted a probation search on Brown's two children, ages 22 and 20, both of whom live with her, Curran said.

According to Brown, the deputies left with 14 mature marijuana plants and about 25 to 30 seedlings. They also took the high-powered lights she uses to grow the plants, about 100 assorted baked goods and a variety of baking supplies.

Brown's case is an example of two medical marijuana laws clashing with one another, Panzer said.

Proposition 215 passed a little over 10 years ago with 56 percent of the vote and became known as the Compassionate Use Act.

It was followed in 2003 by Senate Bill 420, which sought to clarify the proposition. It set six mature marijuana plants or 12 immature plants and up to 8 ounces of dried bud as the maximum one could possess for medicinal purposes without a doctor's recommendation for more.

"What it said is that if you have more than this, you are a felon," Panzer said.

But according to Panzer, this doesn't jibe with the California Constitution, which says that if a law passes by initiative, the Legislature has no authority to amend it. Since Proposition 215 has no limit on the amount of medical marijuana one can possess, setting a cap on plants or processed bud is unconstitutional, he said.

Since it was signed four years ago, "I've challenged it about a dozen times in counties around the state and won it every time," he said.

Curran said the department stands by the charges. It's the department's understanding that "what she was doing was violating the conditions in the proposition," he said.

Ultimately, the arbiter on this case will be the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, which has yet to receive the case, said spokeswoman Lana Wyant.

Meanwhile, Brown is looking to take legal action to recover her supplies. But without the income from her business, she said, getting a lawyer is tough.

"I've talked to a couple of attorneys," she said. "They said to start saving my money. I said, 'What money?' "

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