Supervisors pass medical pot ordinance

July 13, 2004

James Tressler , The Times-Standard

EUREKA -- Humboldt County supervisors Tuesday approved a county ordinance setting guidelines for medical marijuana.

The ordinance essentially mirrors District Attorney Paul Gallegos' prosecution guidelines he introduced last year. Patients can possess up to 3 pounds of processed buds per year, which is the expected yield produced from growing only enough plants to fit within a 100-square-foot area.

The board's vote was 4-0. Chairwoman Jill Geist was not present for the vote because she had a scheduled meeting with the county grand jury.

The ordinance applies to patients and caregivers who live in the county's unincorporated areas. Cities, tribes and schools can set their own policies. Also the ordinance does not require employers to allow patients to possess or use marijuana during work hours.

The board's decision, which came after months of having the ordinance reviewed by a task force, brought applause from the 20 or so medical marijuana patients and advocates who attended the meeting Tuesday.

'I think there's a certain amount of courage in what the board did,' said Chris Conrad, a consultant with Safe Access Now.

Conrad said the fact that Humboldt County now has an ordinance bolsters efforts by medical marijuana advocates around the state working to get local governments to enact similar guidelines.

While mostly happy with Tuesday's decision, some medical pot advocates said there are some issues they hope can be revisited in the future. For instance, some patients say 3 pounds of medical marijuana buds per year may not be an adequate amount, especially considering some counties and cities allow up to 6 pounds.

Supervisor Jimmy Smith, who said he reluctantly supported the ordinance, said he's concerned over a provision that states the county should reimburse patients whose pot is seized by law enforcement during an arrest. Smith said such a provision is troubling, given that cities have differing policies regarding medical marijuana -- and he worries the county could potentially be open to lawsuits.

Other issues include legal uncertainty over the validity of medical marijuana, given the ongoing 'flux' at the state and federal level, as County Counsel Tamara Falor put it.

Supervisors Roger Rodoni and John Woolley, who initially brought forward the ordinance late last year, said while the ordinance doesn't address all the issues surrounding medical marijuana, they believe it's time to give the ordinance a chance.

'This is a well-worn issue,' Rodoni said. 'I personally don't know how much more we can talk about this without being absurdly redundant.'

Woolley said the debate over medical marijuana is 'a very difficult issue loaded with different perspectives,' and added the ordinance could be reviewed in the future to see if there are ways to improve it.

Sheriff Gary Philp said the ordinance really doesn't change anything in regard to how law enforcement throughout the county handles medical marijuana cases. Even if agencies in the cities have different policies, the decision on what cases to prosecute will remain in the hands of the district attorney.

'I can foresee issues with the various jurisdictions,' Philp said. 'They'll have to work it out with the DA. That's just the way it goes.'

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.



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