Medical pot limit raised in Santa Cruz

October 06, 2004

Maria Alicia Gaura, San Francisco Chronicle

Santa Cruz County medical marijuana users may now legally possess as much as 3 pounds of pot -- at least as far as the local authorities are concerned.

The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to set the 3- pound limit at the urging of medical marijuana advocates, who argued that the sickest patients frequently use upwards of an ounce of marijuana per week to ease their symptoms. The board also voted to allow medical users to grow a home garden plot of the herb measuring 100 square feet.

Marijuana is an annual crop, so the 3-pound limit will allow users to obtain a single supply that can last them an entire year.

'Three pounds sounds like a lot, but it's just a few marijuana cigarettes per day, when you break it down,' said Valerie Corral, one of the founders of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz marijuana-growing collective.

Corral uses marijuana several times daily to suppress seizures caused by injuries she suffered in a car accident.

'About 15 percent of our patients use in excess of 5 pounds per year,' Corral said. 'They suffer from everything from chronic pain to cancer and AIDS, chemotherapy and wasting.'

While the new county ordinance will protect marijuana users from prosecution by local law enforcement, it won't do much to dissuade federal agents. The federal government does not recognize California's rules allowing medical marijuana use, which voters enacted in 1996 by passing Proposition 215.

'The federal government still insists that there is no such thing as medicinal marijuana,' said Glenn Backes, director of the Sacramento office of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group organized to reform drug laws.

'Unfortunately, these state and local guidelines still leave patients vulnerable to attack from the feds,' Backes said.

Last October, outgoing Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill by state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, that attempted to standardize the jumble of local medical marijuana legislation passed after Prop. 215 took effect.

The bill, SB420, set a statewide possession limit of 8 ounces of medical marijuana for patients with a doctor's recommendation, but encouraged individual communities to set higher limits if they saw fit. The legislation also allows medical users to possess six mature marijuana plants or 12 immature plants for personal use.

(The bill number was an inside joke referring to 4:20 p.m. -- the time that many recreational users like to take a smoke break and some refer to as 'Miller time for stoners.')

Santa Cruz County is among a growing number of communities that have adopted higher limits, according to NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Humboldt and Sonoma counties have limits similar to Santa Cruz's. Calaveras County allows possession of six plants and 2 pounds of dried marijuana. Yuba County allows five plants and 1.5 pounds, and the city of Berkeley allows 10 plants and 2.5 pounds.

Santa Cruz attorney Ben Rice, who represents the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, says that the new limits are a positive step, but that more refinements to the law are needed.

'It is kind of a bare-bones ordinance,' Rice said. 'One question that remains is, what should law enforcement do when it comes across what is alleged to be a medical marijuana garden?

'Historically they cut down the plants and resolve the issue later -- and in the meantime the medicine is lost,' Rice said. 'I've had a couple of pounds of (seized marijuana) returned that was nothing more than green mush.'

He cited a city of Santa Cruz guideline that directs police to take a sample of the suspect marijuana as well as photographs, but to leave the plants standing until the district attorney decides whether to file charges.



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