Medical marijuana limitations dropped

June 10, 2008

Nicholas Grube, The Daily Triplicate

Faced with the possibility of opening the county up to future litigation, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday opted to come up with a new ordinance that will remove all cultivation and possession limits on medical marijuana.

The decision will shift the burden of what constitutes an appropriate amount of medical marijuana onto patients, their doctors and law enforcement.

"It places the responsibility for the medical necessity for the use of marijuana squarely on the user," Sheriff Dean Wilson said. "They need to work with their doctors to get the medicine that they need."

This means medical marijuana patients will have to consult with their physicians to determine an appropriate dosage and then get a new prescription with these medical guidelines written on it. Otherwise, Wilson said, what is deemed a reasonable amount of medical marijuana would be up to the discretion of law enforcement.

"If (patients) don't have a specified amount, it's going to leave it up to our judgment and the court's judgement," he said. "They're going to have to get that clarified if they don't want law enforcement to come in."

Originally, the Board of Supervisors wanted to reduce the maximum number of plants a medical marijuana patient or caregiver can grow from 99 in a 100-square-foot area to six mature plants or 12 seedlings, and also lower the the amount a person can possess from one pound to 8 ounces.

That change would have brought Del Norte County in line with the majority of the state's counties, which have similar limits.

The reason the Board of Supervisors wanted to enact the stricter guidelines is to reduce the number of illegal growing operations that put more marijuana on the streets.

The proposed stricter limits prompted an outcry from the medical marijuana community, which said they wouldn't provide enough medicine.

The issue was postponed for more consideration after an April public hearing, and since then a California Appeals Court ruled the limits used in most counties are unconstitutional, prompting the board to reconsider.

Now a new ordinance is in the works that will eliminate limits on medical marijuana cultivation and possession.

"We're just deleting that section" of the ordinance, Del Norte County's Attorney Dohn Henion said, adding that a new one will appear on a future board agenda.

While representatives of the medical marijuana community might be expected to laud this decision, some are concerned about the ambiguity in the proposed ordinance.

"It's got a good side and it's got a bad side," said Michael McCauley, local chapter coordinator for Americans for Safe Access Now, an advocacy group for medical marijuana.

He said the new ordinance, if approved, gives law enforcement too much discretion in determining what is an appropriate amount of medical marijuana for a patient to have.

"I think it places the reasonableness on local sheriffs and law enforcement," McCauley said, adding there needs to be some sort of guidelines to ensure the safety of the patients.

"They need to have standards to go by and they need to work with the patient community to come up with those standards," McCauley said. "They don't need to arrest sick people."

Wilson said he would consider different options when it comes to monitoring medical marijuana patients and their caregivers in order to avoid unnecessary criminal charges for legitimate users.

"This is truly a medical issue; it needs to stay a medical issue," he said. "I agree with that."

But he also said it's his duty to make sure people are in compliance with the law, and do not abuse the county's ordinance to illegally sell marijuana on the streets.

"It is the number one cash crop in this area," Wilson said. "It's my job as sheriff to shoot that industry down."

Reach Nicholas Grube at ngrube@triplicate.com.



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