Police Officially Alter Medical Marijuana Policy

September 22, 2004

Steve Irsay, Gazette Newspapers - Long Beach

The Long Beach Police Department has revised it policy on medical marijuana to include more oversight of field officers who encounter purported patients or caregivers possessing the drug.

Previously, the department had a zero tolerance policy under which a self-professed medical user would be subject to citation or arrest as in any other narcotics case.

Medical marijuana advocates complained that this approach clashed with a state law legalizing medical marijuana and in June the City Council required the police department to revise its policy.

The revisions, which officially take effect today (Thursday), have been implemented since July, said Chief of Police Anthony Batts.

“The policy has been working very well,” he told the council Tuesday, adding that a recent case tested the guidelines and that “officers took the appropriate action.”

The old policy essentially left the decision to cite or arrest a suspect up to the responding officer. Some advocates for reform argued that this left medical decisions in the unqualified hands of a police officer.

Under the revised policy, once a person claims to be in possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the officer must detain the suspect and request the presence of a field supervisor.

The officer and supervisor are to contact the suspect’s doctor to verify any documentation. If police deem the claim to be credible, then the marijuana will not be seized and the person will neither be cited nor arrested. Police will file an incident report detailing some of the suspect’s medical information.

If the officers do not believe the medical claim is valid, they are to request that a watch commander respond to the scene to resolve the situation. Only the watch commander can authorize an arrest.

Second District Councilman Dan Baker, who helped initially bring the issue to the council in June, thanked the police department for their response.

“I think it’s a very reasonable policy for the city and I am happy we had the opportunity to bring this forward,” he said.

Several medical marijuana advocates also thanked the police and the council for taking action on an issue that they said was ignored for too long.

“Please remember that one of these patients could be your mother, your bother, your daughter, or even yourselves,” said Diana Lejins.

California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215, also known as the “Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”

The ballot initiative was short on rules for enforcement and this year a new bill, SB 420, addressed permissible amounts of medical marijuana and the issue of proper documentation. Currently, the only acceptable form is a doctor’s note.

The law called for the state Department of Health Services to coordinate a voluntary identification card program through county and city health departments.

State budget issues have held up the implementation of the program but it should be rolled out next April, according to Ron Arias, the city director of Health and Human Services.

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