Three pound pot limit could be set

August 12, 2004

Brian Seals, Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — Medical-marijuana patients in Santa Cruz County would be allowed to possess 3 pounds of pot under guidelines recommended by a group of physicians.

No kidding — 3 pounds. As in, 48 ounces.

While that amount might even make Cheech and Chong blush at first glance, doctors and patients alike say it’s appropriate for medicinal purposes.

Three pounds over the course of a year is understandable when a chronically ill person is trying to avoid such medicines as pharmaceutical opiates, said Valerie Corral of the Wo/men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

Also, nonsmoking alternatives to pot require greater amounts of it.

'There are many patients who do use that much,' she said. 'In fact, it’s not as much as it may seem.'

The Board of Supervisors will consider new guidelines when it meets Tuesday. The board will decide whether to ask the County Counsel’s Office to craft an ordinance reflecting the recommendations and return it for consideration by Oct. 5. The item is on the consent agenda, and those matters typically are not discussed unless a resident or board member requests they be.

The guidelines also would allow patients to maintain a 100-square-foot canopy of pot plants. Canopy is a measure of leaf coverage in a given area. Experts say using canopy as a measure, rather than the number of plants, is a better method as it accounts for large plants.

The recommendations also call for greater quantities to be allowed should a doctor recommend it.

At the request of Sheriff Mark Tracy, the Board of Supervisors asked former county health officer George Wolfe in May to convene a group of physicians to craft recommendations on how much marijuana was appropriate to grow and possess.

Wolfe said he and a group of physicians who have experience with patients using medical marijuana looked at a string of factors, from what other counties are doing to what patients are using.

The group also gleaned information from an obscure federal program which oversees a pot garden at the University of Mississippi. Information from three patients in that program was that they get about 6 pounds per year.

Wolfe said amounts recommended to the board equal three to four marijuana cigarettes per day.

'The clinicians felt that would take care of the need of most of their patients,' Wolfe said.

Tracy was out of town Thursday and could not be reached to comment.

The local guidelines come in the wake of SB 420, written by state Sen. John Vasconcellos and passed by the Legislature in 2003.

That law sought to set a standard on how much weed California patients could have on hand, to spare police from making judgment calls.

The law allowed patients to keep a half-pound on hand, six mature plants and 12 immature plants.

However, the measure also allowed local governments to set their own guidelines, and medical marijuana advocates here said the amounts set by SB 420 were inadequate for many.

'People who are ill obviously have a hard time making frequent purchases,' Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said. 'I think this is a good recommendation.'

Santa Cruz County’s proposed guidelines mirror those already adopted in Humboldt and Sonoma counties.

Others have adopted their own guidelines as well. Berkeley allows 10 plants and 2.5 pounds per patient while Mendocino County’s policy allows 2 pounds and up to 100 square feet of canopy, for example.

Summaries of various policies in California are available at www.safeaccessnow.net/countyguidelines.htm.

Contact Brian Seals at bseals@santacruzsentinel.com.



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