City urges police to change pot policy

June 15, 2004

, Long Beach Press-Telegram

Hearing impassioned pleas from medical marijuana patients and advocates, the City Council this week asked the Long Beach Police Department to change a policy that essentially requires officers who see marijuana to arrest patients first and ask questions later.

The council asked the police to return by Sept. 14 with a proposed new policy to eliminate what several residents said was unfair and inhumane treatment of medical marijuana patients. The city's current police policy calls for officers who come across someone with marijuana to seize any evidence and arrest or cite the person as appropriate. Medical marijuana patients can then prove their cases in court.

Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, makes it legal for patients to possess or cultivate marijuana for medical use.

Several large cities in California already have sought to clarify local policy and resolve the conflicts triggered by Proposition 215. San Diego, for example, has issued guidelines that include carefully regulated identification cards for patients, as well as official parameters on possession and cultivation. Long Beach can, and should, do the same.

The arrests and citations of local medical marijuana patients in recent years have been pointless and cruel. In some cases they have amounted to an incredible waste of court resources, police time and taxpayer money.

Judges have dismissed all but one of the four Long Beach medical marijuana cases that have gone to trial. The other was overturned on appeal. One particularly troubling case involved a septuagenarian veteran with chronic hip pain who was arrested for growing some immature plants with a doctor's recommendation. The man was forced to pay attorneys' fees in more than two dozen court appearances while the case was tried, dismissed and refiled three times.

The public doesn't want sick people arrested for using medical marijuana. A 2004 Field Poll found that 74 percent of Californians favor total legal protection for patients, a substantial increase from the already high 65 percent of voters who approved Proposition 215. Police departments don't need to waste their time going after marijuana patients.

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