Medical Marijuana Patients Coordinate Mass Court Action

August 15, 2004

, Eureka Reporter

On Tuesday, more than three dozen patients across the state will be in their respective county courthouses filing motions for return of nearly a million dollars’ worth of marijuana. Humboldt County’s Courthouse will most likely be one of them.

Medical marijuana patients want their “medicine” back and Tuesday they will demand it, according to a news release from Americans for Safe Access.

According to a report by an advocacy group released Monday, local and state law enforcement agencies are seizing the marijuana to which patients are legally entitled under state law — and not giving it back. Humboldt County is one of 36 counties named in the report.

In November 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 “to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.”

However, according to the report, some agencies have misinterpreted the law, known as the Compassionate Use Act, leaving patients and caregivers vulnerable to arrest and the loss of the medicine, even though the CUA states that its intent is “to ensure that patients and their primary caregivers … are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.”

In 2003, Senate Bill 420 was passed by the California Legislature. It set a statewide minimum for medical marijuana patients of six mature plants or 12 immature plants and up to 8 ounces of processed cannabis flowers. SB 420 also allows local governments to set their own guidelines, using its standards as a minimum.

SB 420 also implemented a statewide voluntary ID card system for the estimated 75,000 medical marijuana patients in California, according to the report.

“Those with a state card and in possession of quantities of marijuana within certain guidelines are guaranteed freedom from arrest … ,” the report states.

The report and mass court action have been put together by California-based Americans for Safe Access, the largest national advocacy group working solely on medical marijuana.

“The law protects these patients,” said the group’s legal coordinator, Kris Hermes. “But we’ve uncovered a culture of resistance within law enforcement. Many agencies across the state just don’t comply with the law. Patients are being arrested or having their medicine seized in nearly every police encounter.”

A recent Field poll shows that Proposition 215 today has the support of four in five voters.

Nonetheless, a three-month study conducted by Americans for Safe Access found property and rights violations in more than half the counties in the state. And even the California Highway Patrol has seized marijuana from authorized patients and refused to return it.

Eureka Police Chief Dave Douglas previously told The Eureka Reporter that the county’s recent passage of its ordinance conforming to SB 420 would not affect the police department, a statement that is cited in ASA’s report.

“The goal is to see where federal folks are coming from, and we’ll go forward from there. We’re not changing our standards,” he told The Eureka Reporter last month.

The study involves more than 100 patients and caregivers who experienced recent arrest, prosecution and/or the seizure of their medicine. The ASA’s study alleges that patients and caregivers had their rights violated in 62 percent of counties statewide.

Medical marijuana patients in California are being forced to file motions for return of property in criminal court to reclaim their marijuana. If the marijuana has been destroyed or has deteriorated, the local government is responsible for compensating the patient for the value of the property lost or rendered unusable. The value of the property being sought Tuesday is estimated at nearly $1 million.

“Losing their medicine is obviously hard on the patients,” Hermes said. “But it’s also costing taxpayers money. Better law-enforcement policies or any policies at all, can fix this.”

The report estimates the cost of an arrest is $732; and the expense of prosecuting one person is $9,250.

“The cost … is unnecessary since law enforcement can choose not to arrest medical marijuana patients,” the report states.

The study found that most law-enforcement agencies in California do not have policies for identifying patients legally entitled to have marijuana. The estimated annual cost of compensating patients whose marijuana is seized is more than $4 million statewide.

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