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PROGRESS ON MARIJUANA

Editorial Page
The Orange County (Ca.) Register
April 3, 1997

Key Orange County law enforcement officials argued during the election that Prop. 215, the medical marijuana initiative, could not be enforced, given that medical marijuana would still be illegal under federal law.

Now we find their initial resistance diminishing and steps being taken toward an enforcement policy. In fact, communities around the state seem to be finding workable ways of reconciling the fact that voters passed Prop. 215 -- now Section 11362.5 of the California Health and Safety Code. Voters clearly signaled that they want sick people to have access to marijuana while possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal for the rest of us.

In Orange County, Sheriff's deputies are given some discretion as to how the law is applied, according to Lt. Ron Wilderson. If deputies find people in possession of marijuana but with a doctor's note, no citation is to be issued if the note seems legitimate, but a report is to be written for the Narcotics Detail. "Under no circumstances will the aforementioned report be submitted for prosecution by any member of the Department other than a member of the Narcotics Detail," a Feb. 24 department memo says. The department to date has no written policy on turning over information on possessors or doctors to federal authorities.

Orange County District Attorney Michael Capizzi told us recently he had no written policy but planned to follow the law. His office declined to prosecute a woman who had a small amount of marijuana and a doctor's note, but referred the doctor's name to federal authorities because he was a V.A. doctor. Future incidents will be handled on a case-by-case basis, with the emphasis on whether a person has a valid recommendation from a licensed doctor, a narcotics division spokesman said Wednesday.

Other communities have taken various approaches. The Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco, which had begun operating before the election and was closed by state authorities just before the election, is back in business with the blessing of the San Francisco Superior Court.

In Berkeley, the Berkeley Police Department on March 20 issued a Training and Information Bulletin on the subject.

It notes that the proposition contained two elements -- that "a medical doctor (an M.D.) must have recommended the use of marijuana" and that "the amount of marijuana that is possessed or is being cultivated must be commensurate with the personal medical use of the patient."

The bulletin also summarizes the San Francisco Superior Court ruling that a buyers club can be designated as a "primary care giver" under the new law, but only if it is really a non-profit organization as documented by financial records, maintains records showing that its members have formally designated the club as a "primary care giver" and its members really have a doctor's recommendation.

In San Jose, the city government is treating "medical marijuana dispensaries" like any other business, authorized to operate in commercial areas and to grow plants on-site.

Despite threats from federal officials -- none carried out so far -- California doctors, patients and law-enforcement agencies are finding ways to harmonize Sec. 11362.5 with existing law. It would be nice to see further guidelines in Orange County dealing with buyers' clubs, doctors and their recommendations and federal issues.

Most encouraging, various efforts to date suggest that enforcement of the new law will not present insuperable problems.