Medical Marijuana Advocates in Redding Wait on Courts
Lindy May-Saunders is worried about her access to medical marijuana should Redding's dispensaries shut down.
"It scares the hell out of me because without medicine I die," she said.
May-Saunders, a 32-year-old Army veteran, uses medical marijuana to treat seizures caused by epilepsy. She was left with that condition after a 1999 brain injury she suffered while deployed to Thailand.
She's just one of the likely hundreds of medical marijuana patients in Redding dealing with fear, anger and confusion over the uncertain future of that access heading into the New Year.
"They're kind of mad about what's going on, and they're trying to figure out what's going on," said Jess Brewer, owner of the Trusted Friends collective, about the patients coming in and out of his Pine Street storefront.
The uncertainty for patients has intensified since Redding's City Council passed a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in November.
In the wake of that decision patients have protested, two lawsuits have been filed and a recall effort launched against three City Council members as patients and advocates seek to secure safe access to medicine.
Dispensary bans also are in place in Anderson and the unincorporated county, although separate court action in Anderson and a push for a county referendum seek to overturn those actions.
Meanwhile, officials maintain they made the right choice for the city as Redding, along with the rest of California, is itself caught in the uncertain legal climate surrounding the state's medical marijuana laws and the potential conflicts with federal law, which considers all cannabis illegal.
Many worried about losing dispensaries.
May-Saunders became a medical marijuana patient about three years ago, she said, and since then has found cannabis more effective than any other seizure treatment.
"For years and years of my life I seized every day. And I'm now I'm seizure-free," she said. "I didn't know if it was going to work or not, this was my last resort."
May-Saunders, who's been rated 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, has her choice of medicine.
But other drugs have all caused severe side effects, including sleeplessness, anxiety, hostility, suicidal thoughts and other physical problems, May-Saunders said.
What's worse, none of those drugs cured seizures, which will return if May-Saunders doesn't have access to medical marijuana, she said.
"I will seize for maybe two to four hours straight and maybe die," May-Saunders said. "It's not a pretty picture."
May-Saunders, who lives in an apartment in north Redding, can't grow her own medicine and is skeptical of the safety of private cultivators.
She, like many other patients, counted on dispensaries for safe access to medicine, medical marijuana advocates said.
"There are a lot of patients who did not grow because they knew they had dispensaries to rely on," said James Benno, a vocal advocate who's been at the center of local medical marijuana fight. "( The city ) basically turned us into criminals, and they want us to turn to the black market."
Greg Dulik hasn't thought about what he'll do should Redding's dispensaries close, although he's worried about losing access to his medicine of choice.
"I'm too old to be slinging out on the street looking for dealers," said Dulik, 55, of Shasta Lake. "It's going to be rough for a lot of people, that's about all I can say."
Redding could keep its dispensaries. A pair of lawsuits filed late in the year have left the certainty of the city's ban in question. The case will come before a judge this month.
Lawsuits, recall launched.
The lawsuits, filed in late November and early December on behalf of a total of nine Redding dispensaries, claim the city acted outside its authority when it imposed the ban and has denied dispensaries and their patients due process rights.
The suits seek a court order preventing Redding officials from enforcing the ban, effectively allowing dispensaries to remain open.
Meanwhile, the city has sought an injunction from the court that would order dispensaries to comply with the ban and shut down.
Many dispensaries remain open despite the ban as the owners and operators of those businesses await a judge's decision. Brewer's Trusted Friends location is one of those dispensaries.
"I decided to just ride this thing out until then," said Brewer, who previously planned to close the dispensary by Christmas.
"I feel that we're a service, I hope that we'll be able to stay in business," he said. "If there comes a time when we're forced out of business, then so be it."
Medical marijuana patients and advocates also have launched a recall effort against City Council members Francie Sullivan, Patrick Jones and Rick Bosetti. Councilwoman Missy McArthur and Mayor Dick Dickerson's terms expire this year.
Rob McDonald, a medical marijuana patient and outspoken advocate, presented the council members with recall notices at the Dec. 20 council meeting.
He also decried the city's ban and said the council discriminated against a group of people based on that group's choice of medicine.
"They are violating our rights under Prop. 215 and SB 420," he said. "They are completely violating our rights, and they've been wanting to for a long time."
His initial recall notices didn't have enough signatures, City Clerk Pam Mize said, although it's common for recall notices to be insufficient on the first submission.
McDonald said he'll refile this month.
Even with the overwhelmingly negative reaction to their decision, City Council members maintain their vote was the right one for Redding.
Council members defend decision
Bosetti said he believes the purpose of the Compassionate Use Act - commonly known as Proposition 215 - wasn't to create retail storefronts.
"Since the decision was made, I've received a lot of supporting information from people throughout the state." Bosetti said. "I stand solidly behind my vote."
Jones, who in 2009 cast the lone vote against allowing dispensaries in the city, remains confident the ban was the right choice.
"It is a federally controlled substance, and we cannot make any local laws that are in violation of state and federal laws," he said. "It's what I argued two years ago."
Recreational users make up the majority of dispensary clients and those users are abusing the system, he said.
"For those people who are critically ill, it does provide some relief," he said. "If the federal law was different, I could certainly support that.
But I'm certainly not going to support the recreational uses that are happening today."
Sullivan said recently she believes the council made the only choice it could.
"I think that it's very clear that the city tried to follow the will of the voters of the state of California," she said. "Our city council at the time tried to meet the intent of that initiative to the best standard that they could, and now the courts have said that was wrong, you can't do that."
The decision to ban dispensaries wasn't personal, Sullivan said, although it's being misrepresented by medical marijuana patients and advocates as the council's verdict on the morality of marijuana.
"That was never discussed, that was never part of our decision and that was never allowed to be part of decision," she said.
Redding's ban was based in part on an October ruling that state and local laws licensing the dispensaries are pre-empted by federal law.
The ruling in the Pack vs. Long Beach case invalidated Redding's own permitting system for dispensaries, city officials have said.
The Pack ruling, state Attorney General Kamala Harris said recently, is state law while the parties in the case wait to see whether the state Supreme Court will weigh in.
Redding also drew on a recent 4th District Appellate Court ruling upholding a city of Riverside ban on collectives despite Prop. 215 and the state Medical Marijuana Program of 2003.
Prop. 215 and other medical marijuana laws do not provide people with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use dispensaries, the court ruled in that case. And state law does not prevent cities from banning medical marijuana outright.
"The court cases today are confirming what I have said the entire time," Jones said.
While banning storefront collectives, the city still allows groups of up to 10 people to cooperatively grow and distribute medical marijuana.
Patients in Redding can also grow their own marijuana as the Pack ruling didn't affect the city's growing regulations, City Attorney Rick Duvernay said. So far, no court has ruled a city can't have zoning regulations, he said.
Benno, who's embroiled in a battle with the city over his medical marijuana garden, said the city's regulations don't allow patients to grow adequate amounts of medical cannabis.
Shasta Lake still has two dispensaries. Jamie Kerr, owner of the 530 Collective, said she's seen as many as five new members a day, mostly former members of Redding dispensaries.
But state law adds to the confusing climate for law enforcement and local municipalities, Harris said.
State law adds to confusion
Complicating decisions for cities including Redding is that state law isn't clear on how, when and where patients can grow and obtain marijuana with a doctor's recommendation, Harris said in a recent letter to state legislators.
"The state of California itself is going to have to step in and clearly define everything," Bosetti said.
Duvernay said much of the same in November. Proposition 215 and guidelines published by a previous attorney general are vague, he said.
Medical marijuana advocates don't speak in a single, consistent voice, and neither does law enforcement, Duvernay said.
"I agree with many of the concerns expressed by Ms. Harris to the state Legislature regarding serious inadequacies in the current state of the law," Duvernay said. "The attorney general's position reinforces ( Redding's ) decision to take a 'timeout' and a step back on this issue."
Harris has asked state lawmakers to draft legislation to clarify whether patients can legally acquire marijuana at storefront dispensaries or whether collective and cooperative cultivation is the only legal way.
"Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist," Harris said in a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and John Perez, speaker of the state Assembly. "In short, it is time for real solutions, not half-measures."
She also asked legislators to clarify what it means for a collective or cooperative to operate as a nonprofit and address whether edible medical marijuana products should be treated and regulated.
New legislation, however, can't interfere with the core rights of Prop. 215, Harris said. The state constitution limits the Legislature from amending or changing the scope of initiatives without voter approval, she said.
"In simple terms, this means that the core right of qualified patients to cultivate and possess marijuana cannot be abridged," Harris said.
Nor can the state license large-scale growing operations, which would conflict with the ruling in the Pack case, she said.
But Benno, a self-described expert on Prop. 215, said asking for the legislation is a cop-out, and state guidelines are already clear enough.
"It's not the patients who have problems complying with the guidelines, it's local officials," Benno said. "There is no gray area. The only gray area is the one being created by local politicians."
Patients use for different reasons
McDonald, 50, uses medical marijuana to treat back pain, but it has also relieved his shoulder bursitis.
He said people with cancer, multiple sclerosis and a wide range of other diseases use cannabis for medicine, in addition to treating pain.
Nick Ciampi, 63, of Redding began using medical marijuana in the 1990s when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
"When I was going through my chemo they couldn't give me anything legally at the time," Ciampi said. "The doctors told me if I could get marijuana that was the only thing I could use."
The chemotherapy cured the leukemia, Ciampi said, and he still uses cannabis to treat pain left from bone tumors. Ciampi has stomach issues that prevent him from taking other pain medications, he said.
Richard Leake, 20, of Redding said he uses medical marijuana to ease the pain from a degenerative hip disease he's had since birth.
Leake suffers from Legg-Calve-perthes, a disease that causes thighbone to die when the ball of the bone in the hip doesn't get enough blood.
"Pretty much my right hip is almost completely dead now," he said.
Leake has taken over-the-counter and prescription pain medication since he was 5, but those medicines cause stomach deterioration. He can't take them without getting sick, he said.
Leake also recognizes medical marijuana isn't just used for pain relief.
One of his friends, whom Leake didn't name, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the military. That friend uses medical marijuana to help with symptoms, he said.
"Ever since he's been smoking it, he's calmed down a lot," Leake said. "He doesn't like what the city is doing."
Brewer said fear prevents many medical marijuana patients from speaking out. Those patients worry that they'll be drug-tested at work or lose government assistance.
That fear stems from a stigma associated with medical marijuana, Brewer said.
"This is still looked at as a bad situation. And again, it has to do a lot with the bad publicity," he said.
Patients also stay silent out of a desire to keep their medicine choice private, Brewer said.
"If you take Prozac, I'm sure you don't tell the office," he said.
Yet Brewer said his collective's membership represents every segment of society. "I can tell you for a fact I have patients from every part of society you can name," he said. "Do you know these names? No. They are 215 patients, but they're not going to come out and tell you."
News Hawk - 420 Warrior 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Author: Sean Longoria
Copyright: 2012 Record Searchlight