Ramsey skeptical of new med-pot guidelines

September 03, 2008

Ginger McGuire, Chico News & Review

Last week state Attorney General Jerry Brown issued new guidelines clarifying California’s medical-marijuana laws, but Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey is skeptical. The guidelines won’t do much to deter illegal drug activity, he said.

The guidelines are the first attempt by a state agency to define the types of organizations that are legally permitted to dispense marijuana, according to a press release. They specify that only medicinal collectives and cooperatives may sell the herb, and only among their own members. The collectives cannot be operated for profit, may not purchase marijuana from unlawful sources and must have a defined organizational structure that includes detailed records proving that users are legitimate patients.

A major component of the guidelines is their contention that storefront dispensaries that sell to anyone with a doctor’s recommendation are illegal because they don’t fit the definition of a collective.

That guideline, Ramsey said, is “great” because other district attorneys have “felt they are probably illegal” but didn’t enforce any state laws to close the operations down.

“California voters approved an initiative legalizing medical marijuana, not street drugs,” Brown said in a press release. “Marijuana intended for medicinal use should not be sold to nonpatients or on illicit markets.”

Brown said these guidelines will help law enforcement agencies perform their duties in accordance with California law and help patients understand their rights under Proposition 215. Law enforcement agencies had requested the guidelines in response to the belief that individuals and cartels, under the cover of Proposition 215, have expanded illegal cultivation and sales of marijuana.

“It’s a nice summary of what the law is,” Ramsey said. “Will it change those folks who want to use marijuana for illicit trafficking? Probably not.”

However, Americans for Safe Access attorney Joe Elford said in a press release that compliance with these guidelines will result in fewer unnecessary arrests, citations and seizures of medicine from qualified patients and their primary caregivers. The state has more than 200,000 doctor-qualified medical-cannabis users, according to the group.

California voters approved Proposition 215, which exempts patients and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under state law for the possession and cultivation of marijuana, in 1996. In 2004, the Legislature enacted the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which established a voluntary statewide identification-card system, specific limits on the amount of medicinal marijuana each cardholder could possess and rules for cultivation by collectives and cooperatives.

Still, Ramsey said Proposition 215 was and still is “a very confusing law … purposefully written to be vague and confusing.” He said that, since Proposition 215 passed, high school statistics show an increase in smoking marijuana or an increase in having access to marijuana—a diversion from medical marijuana.

Although the guidelines were issued not necessarily to deter illicit behavior, but to clear up the confusion associated with Proposition 215, Ramsey believes those who illegally smoke or cultivate will just try that much harder to “fit in” with the guidelines.

A report titled Marijuana Production in the United States, by drug-policy researcher Jon Gettman, estimated that in 2006 more than 21 million pot plants were grown in California at a street value of up to $14 billion. That would make it the largest agricultural industry in the state.

Ramsey said he is in full support of 215 for “the purposes it was intended for—folks who are seriously ill.

“However, I find a lot of folks use it as an excuse to smoke dope,” he continued. “Obviously, some of the medical reasons that are given are a bit laughable.” He said he has seen recommendations for marijuana to cure alcoholism, “shortened-leg syndrome” (one leg shorter than the other) and stress caused by the fear that police would confiscate marijuana being grown illegally. The most popular reason is a bad back, Ramsey continued.

He said some people don’t want any limits at all, and he sees problems with violence and increased robberies with “people that trade in large quantities of marijuana” who may be attempting to illegally use or cultivate it “saying it is medical marijuana.”

Typically, the small growers who may have some plants growing indoors or in a back yard are usually not a problem, he continued.

With these guidelines in place, Ramsey said he would like to see a double-blind scientific study to evaluate whether marijuana is really useful medicinally, rather than the anecdotal evidence that has been inconclusive—the study Ramsey says was promised when Proposition 215 was passed.

If marijuana is proved to be truly effective, Ramsey said he would like to see it rescheduled from a Schedule 1 drug, the most tightly restricted type of drug, to a Schedule 2 drug that can be prescribed and controlled.

See www.buttecounty.net/da for a description of the medicinal marijuana guidelines specific to Butte County. To view the state guidelines, go to www.ag.ca.gov.



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