Medical pot backers issue call for action

September 20, 2004

David Chircop, Merced Sun-Star

Threatening lawsuits for what they called a violation of state law, medical marijuana advocates blasted local law enforcement agencies and pleaded with the Merced City Council on Monday to establish a medical marijuana ordinance.

More than 20 medical marijuana advocates and patients came to the City Council meeting to express their concerns that state medical marijuana statutes aren't being followed locally.

'Patients who do not want to break the law need to know what the guidelines are so they can follow them,' said Nick Osborne, a Dos Palos resident and medical marijuana patient.

Osborne said many in his predicament seek clarity from the city and Merced County and are afraid they could wind up behind bars, even though they can legally use marijuana under state law.

In 1996, 56 percent of voters in California voted for Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana as a prescribed medicine.

But confusion over the matter and an uneven application of the law helped spur SB 420, which was signed into law last year. That bill requires uniform standards for implementing the medical marijuana law.

Presenting the council with a binder of documents on the state law, Auberry attorney William McPike told the council that they should create a policy that protects medical marijuana users.

He said the city already faces two possible lawsuits related to its lack of policies and could face more if the council doesn't take action.

The lawyer said one of his clients from Madera was pulled over by Merced police on a minor traffic violation earlier this year, but was detained when officers found marijuana in his car.

McPike said even though his client has a court order to possess and a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana, the man spent seven days in jail.

Incidents like that, he said, opens the city to 'a lot of litigation.'

Merced Police Chief Tony Dossetti contends the officers did nothing wrong and will continue to enforce laws against marijuana possession.

'The onus is on the user to prove they are a medical marijuana patient,' he said.

He also said the county health department is responsible for putting together photo identifications for medical marijuana users to carry.

County officials have said such cards are in the works.

The cards would give officers a quick way to verify the authenticity of a doctor's recommendation in the field.

City Attorney Greg Diaz had previously told the council that they would be prudent to wait on making a declaration detailing a medical marijuana policy.

A pending challenge of the state law in the U.S. Supreme Court could change the issue, he said.

Reporter David Chircop can be reached at 385-2453 or dchircop@mercedsun-star.com.



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