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Newshawk: Rachel Morton
Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jul 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Address: Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712

Author: Tracy Wilson, Times Staff Writer


Marijuana: A Simi Valley man is suing police for pulling up his plants. The
1996 state law allowing use by sick people is generating court fights and even insurance

SIMI VALLEY--Rex Dean Jones, a feisty 64-year-old retiree, says he never intended to pick
a fight with the Police Department in this law-and-order town. But a fight is exactly with he

Two years ago, Jones went to the police station with his wife, Lillian, 84, and told authorities
he was growing marijuana in their back yard. He presented a doctor's note and explained
that, under a 1996 state law, he believed he was allowed to grow the drug for his medical use.

The next day, Jones was arrested on suspicion of felony marijuana cultivation and his 14 pot
plants were uprooted. Ventura County prosecutors later dropped the charges after checking
with Jones' doctor and confirming that he was a qualified medical marijuana patient.

Now Jones is suing the Simi Valley Police Department for false arrest. He recently became
one of a handful of Californians ever reimbursed by an insurance company for seizure of
marijuana plants.

Jones and his wife received a check in April for $6,850 from Farmers Insurance Group,
which concluded that the plants fell within the section of her homeowner's policy that covers
"trees, shrubs, plants and lawns."

"It makes me feel that my rights are being upheld," said Jones, who has a doctor's
recommendation to use marijuana to treat symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure, skin
cancer, back pains and migraines.

"Other people like myself have a right to do what they are doing without being hassled or
harassed," said Jones, who is back to growing his own marijuana. "Leave the senior citizens

Jones' case is among the first of its kind to spin out of California's medical marijuana law,
which has been entangled in legal disputes for years.

Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 215 allows seriously ill people to use, grow and
obtain marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation.

But the measure runs contrary to federal law and is silent on how patients are to obtain the
drug or how many plants they can grow for medical use.

The latest development came last week when a federal judge reversed his own 1998 order
and ruled that an Oakland cannabis buyers club could dispense marijuana to seriously ill

Federal prosecutors had shut down six cannabis clubs in Northern California, saying the drug
is illegal under U.S. law. When the Oakland club refused to close, U.S. District Judge
Charles Breyer ordered it shut down.

The club appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which last fall found that Breyer
had not weighed the public's interest.

At the same time, implementation of the state law has varied widely from one jurisdiction to

In San Francisco, the district attorney this month unveiled an identification card system that
allows sick people with doctors' notes access to marijuana.

But in Thousand Oaks, a cannabis club was shut down after the district attorney filed a
lawsuit alleging that the business was operating illegally and was a threat to public health.

"The whole thing is truly a can of worms at this point," said Ventura County Deputy Dist.
Atty. Bill Redmond, who dropped the charges against Jones. "Should it be a
county-by-county decision or should there be a set of directives from the state?"

So far, state legislators have steered clear of the issue.

Last year, a group of police officers, medicinal marijuana advocates and doctors
recommended that the state establish a voluntary registry of patients to protect them from
arrests. But the proposal went nowhere.

"I don't see a widespread distribution," said Andrea Nagy, former owner of the Ventura
County Medical Cannabis Center who fought unsuccessfully to keep her cooperative open.

"It's tough locally," Nagy said. "If you're seriously ill, you'd better live in the Bay Area." In
the absence of firm guidelines, police officers have made arrests and seized plants in cases
where they suspect people are cultivating marijuana for illegal sale instead of personal use.

A Camarillo couple, Lisa and Craig Schwartz, were arrested on felony marijuana cultivation
charges last year after the Ventura County Sheriff's Department raided their home and seized
68 pot plants. Their case is pending.

Marijuana advocates say insurance payouts may be one way that qualified patients can recoup
their losses from such seizures.

"The only reason it's happening is that the police aren't respecting their rights," said San
Francisco attorney J. David Nick, who is representing Jones in his civil case and Lisa
Schwartz in her criminal case.

"People are desperate in order to make the politicians respond to the will of the people," Nick
said. "The hope is that when the insurance companies deal with enough claims, they will put
pressure in the appropriate place in Sacramento."

The first known reimbursement occurred eight months ago when a 71-year-old Northern
California man, Robert DeArkland, received $6,500 from his insurance company after police
seized 13 pot plants from his garage.

Nick, who has defended medical marijuana users across the state, said he knows of several
claims that are pending and some that have been rejected.

Insurance regulators acknowledge that, given the current state of the law, more claims are

"I wouldn't consider two cases as a trend, but it is possibly the beginning of more to come,"
said Mike Silva, deputy press secretary for the California Department of Insurance.

Farmers Insurance representatives said Jones' claim was the first they've handled.

"I really don't think it is very common," said Kitty Miller, a Farmers spokeswoman who said
such reimbursements are permissible if damaged pot plants are legal and covered by the

While medical marijuana advocates argue that payouts from powerful insurance companies
lend legitimacy to their efforts, Miller said politics has nothing to do with it.

"It simply means it is something under the law that was not covered before and is covered
now," Miller said. "We don't have a position on it at all."

In February 1999, Jones sued the Simi Valley Police Department, alleging that officers
illegally arrested him and seized marijuana plants he was cultivating for medical use.

The suit is set for trial in Ventura County Superior Court next week. The city contends that
its officers acted appropriately, given the state of the law at the time.

Jones filed his insurance claim a few months after filing the lawsuit, and although the
reimbursement doesn't come close to covering the loss of his plants--valued at between
$3,000 and $4,000 each--he said it is rewarding nonetheless.

"I think for me it is the knowledge that I have the right to grow an herb for my own spiritual
and physical well-being," said Jones, who describes himself as a street preacher.

"Hey," he said, "I'm just a Simi Valley senior citizen standing up for my rights."

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