Life better for lake's 500 medical pot users

April 22, 2004

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

It's been a quiet but good year for medicinal marijuana proponents in El Dorado County.Last April county authorities granted cultivation and possession guidelines that continue to draw praise from supporters who now face a new hurdle.

One South Lake Tahoe caregiver, Shelly Arnold, said she has felt unusual peace in the past year. A visit by authorities to inspect her garden ended in handshakes and good vibes for all.

'I'm snug as a bug. I feel great,' said the woman who also goes by the moniker of 'The Green Goddess.'

The guidelines were created by a roundtable group of doctors, medical marijuana supporters and law enforcement. It makes differences between the legal possession of growing plants and processed marijuana depending if the product is indoors or outdoors. Basically 10 bud-producing plants are the maximum number allowed during harvest.

Users must have a physician's recommendation. The guidelines also give possession rules to primary caregivers.

Philip Denney, a West Slope doctor who provided marijuana prescriptions to chronic patients, praised the guidelines.

'My overall take on it is it's been an excellent exercise in democracy,' Denney said Thursday from Washington, D.C.

Although California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, it took until 2003 for the county to enact rules and this year for the state to establish regulations.

SB 420 was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis on Oct. 12, two days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled medical marijuana legal. The bill required a card identification system for medical marijuana users. It allowed the possession of up to eight ounces of dried, processed marijuana and six mature and 12 immature plants for 'qualified patients or primary caregivers.'

District Attorney Gary Lacy said the county will keep its guidelines, even though they are more liberal than the state's rules.

The bill laid the foundation for counties to enact their own rules and boundaries but a lack of funding has stalled the card program. The California Department of Health Services was charged with heading the inactive program.

'The administration is looking at the bill to see what they can do,' said Robert Miller, a spokesman for the state's health department.

Despite the money drought, Mollie Fry was thrilled with the state. Fry, a doctor in Cool who runs a clinic that offers medical marijuana prescriptions, has dropped her fees in her reinforced conviction that medical marijuana is crucially needed.

Her husband, attorney Dale Schafer who once ran for district attorney, no longer offers legal advice at the clinic for medical marijuana.

'My patients need to understand that this is law,' Fry, who is now free of cancer, said.

Fry plans to open a larger clinic in Georgetown. She met with a real estate agent Thursday. It would treat basic emergencies, offer counseling, provide day care and, in a separate area, prescribe medical marijuana.

She dreams of opening the clinic, named 'Doc Fry,' in September, the third anniversary of a federal raid when the couple saw 6,000 patient files and other items seized from their clinic. An indictment has yet to be delivered and the files have not been returned.

Schafer said the next step is investigating the possibilities of medical marijuana cooperatives and collective gardens. Two are said to be working in Placerville by sending marijuana to patients who phone in an order. Another is in Roseville while one, the Golden State Patient Care Collective, opened in Colfax earlier this month.

Another roundtable meeting set for April 30 on the West Slope will take aim on the cooperative issue. South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Don Muren intends to make his first appearance at such meetings that date.

Arnold, one of the South Lake Tahoe caregivers, said there are, at most, 500 medical marijuana users at the lake. She isn't aware of any lake doctors who openly prescribe the drug and is against the idea of cooperatives. People can still be arrested or tragedies could happen to crops, she said.

El Dorado County sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell said while on a recent patrol he encountered a person with an ounce of marijuana for medical purposes. Lovell admitted it took some time getting used to letting people go who possessed the drug.

'It's unusual for me being somewhat old school,' he said.


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