CHP re-evaluates confiscating medical marijuana

August 31, 2005

Robert McCockran, Times-Herald

The California Highway Patrol has tempered its policy regarding the seizure of medical marijuana, a spokesman for the agency said Wednesday.

"Because of current litigation and recent opinions from the attorney general's office, the department revised its policy regarding medical marijuana," said Lt. Joe Whiteford, of CHP media relations.

"In the past, our department would only accept a card issued by the Department of Health Services for people who want to carry the medical marijuana. That has changed," Whiteford said. "Not only can they carry the state card, they can have a card issued by the city or county - the local government - as well as a signed, written recommendation from a doctor."

As long as a person found with marijuana is within the legal limits - eight ounces or less in most counties - CHP will verify the information. If the medical marijuana information is valid the motorist won't be cited for it and their marijuana won't be taken away, Whiteford said.

"Definitely, this is a tremendous victory for medical marijuana patients across the state and should provide greater protection for patients and caregivers in California," said Kris Hermes, legal campaign director of Americans for Safe Access.

In summer 2004, Americans for Safe Access started tracking incidents of "patient arrest" and confiscation of "medicine" by police across the state, Hermes said.

The organization found "the law enforcement disregard for the Compassionate Use Act was pretty widespread - occurring in at least 48 of California's 58 counties," he said. And the CHP was the "worst violator," accounting for more than 25 percent of the reports they received about arrests and seizures.

"We basically discovered there was a reason for this and that was they had a policy which mandated seizure regardless of whether patients provided the proper documentation," Hermes said.

Americans for Safe Access sued last Feb. 15, on behalf of six plaintiffs in Alameda Superior Court "to challenge California's top law enforcement agency's policy on seizure," Hermes said, adding that on Aug. 22, the CHP revised its policy.

Whiteford said CHP officers are not out looking for drugs.

"That's not our main mission. Our main mission is traffic safety," he said. "But if something leads us to believe that there's drugs or contraband in the car, (that is, if they see or smell it) of course we can then get in the car and look."



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