County OKs pot limit

October 05, 2004

Brian Seals, Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — Enrico Mellone uses marijuana in his battle against cancer and Crohn’s disease.

He doesn’t belong to a medical marijuana cooperative. Up until now, he hasn’t grown it himself. Sometimes he goes to buyers’ clubs in Oakland, but finds that to be expensive and the product low-grade.

So when the county Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that allows medical patients to possess 3 pounds of pot and keep a garden with a 100-square-foot canopy, Mellone and others like him who rely on the marijuana were pleased.

'This enables me to grow outside and be self-sufficient,' Mellone said after the vote.

About 25 people showed up to support the ordinance; none of those who spoke at the meeting opposed it.

While the allowed amount may seem excessive to the non-user, patients said that, in some cases, 3 pounds was a minimum, providing about three marijuana cigarettes per day. Moreover, eating pot, in brownies for example, can take more of it than smoking it.

Patients use marijuana to cope with a string of illnesses and diseases, including cancer and AIDS.

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Jake Singleton said he was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago. The same medication that attacked his cancer damaged his taste buds and he began losing weight, he said.

'I lost my appetite until I discovered the wonderful world of the munchies,' Singleton said.

He uses pot in an edible form, eating it about three times per day. He noted three times a day multiplied by 365 days in a year is 'quite a bit of marijuana.'

Supporters of the rules lauded Sheriff Mark Tracy for asking the board to request a team of physicians to develop some guidelines and make the issue a medical one rather than a law enforcement one.

The board did just that, enlisting former county Chief Health Officer George Wolfe, who convened a team of physicians to craft guidelines.

Those doctors considered what other counties have done in setting their own guides and also gleaned information from a little-known federal program that oversees a pot garden at the University of Mississippi. Information from three patients in that program indicated that they get about 6 pounds per year.

The physicians’ recommendations were similar to ones in place in Sonoma County.

While medical pot advocates said they were pleased with the county’s new regulations, many called it a first step. For starters, the law covers individuals, but not cooperatives in which patients grow for one another.

'We do need some guidelines, but my caveat is I would like to revisit this in the future,' said Mike Corral of the Wo/men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

Corral said it would take a pretty experienced grower to yield 3 pounds from a garden with a 100-square-foot canopy.

Santa Cruz attorney Ben Rice said guidelines are also needed for deputies.

'There is nothing here about what law enforcement is supposed to do when they come across a grow,' said Rice, who said he had gone to court to obtain the return of about 12 pounds of pot during the past three years.

He said that is a burden to police, who have to keep the marijuana stored properly until the case is resolved.

Rice suggested the county adopt rules similar to the city of Santa Cruz, which in 2000 passed ordinance that calls for police to take photographs and a small sample, rather than confiscating the weed, when there is a question as to whether pot is for medical purposes until the grower’s status can be determined.

Despite the minor critiques, most medical marijuana advocates were pleased with the board’s action.

'I think we’ve made great strides in our community and that we are a model for other communities,' said WAMM’s Valerie Corral.

The new rules come eight years after the passage of Proposition 215, a medical marijuana initiative approved by California voters.

Since that time, various cities and counties have grappled with how best to implement the policy.

Last August the county launched a program issuing medical marijuana I.D. cards through the county Health Services Agency.

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