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Pot Law Tested in Local Court



Jan.30, 00
Calaveras Enterprise
By Scott Mobley
An Angels Camp man who has prescriptions for medical marijuana is on trial this week in a case advocates hope will blow away the haze shrouding how much medicine pot users need to grow and smoke. The trial opened last Wednesday in Calaveras County Superior Court and testimony will continue today, Friday.
William Harrison, an Angels Camp sculptor, faces felony marijuana cultivation and possession for sale charges. He's also accused of being an ex-felon with a gun. Authorities raiding Harrison's outdoor gardens near Camp Nine Road and Douglas Flat seized 64 cannabis plants on Sept. 17, 1998. Local sheriff's deputies arrested Harrison a few days later despite finding his written doctor's prescription for marijuana while searching his home, said Bill Logan, the defendant's attorney.
Harrison, who suffers severe pain, nausea, tinnitus and vertigo stemming from a chest infection he suffered a number of years ago, has permission from Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld of San Francisco and Dr. Mike Kifune of Arnold to use marijuana, Logan said. Patients can legally use marijuana with a doctor's prescription under California's Prop. 215 or compassionate use act, which voters approved in 1996. Harrison has had a doctor's permission to use medical marijuana since March, 1997, Logan said. But that meant nothing to the authorities arresting Harrison, who allegedly told him he could use the prescriptions as toilet paper, Logan said.
Prosecutors contend that Harrison was growing $500,000 worth of cannabis, way too much pot for his own consumption. Barbara Yook, the Calaveras County deputy district attorney trying the case, told jurors that Harrison would have to smoke an ounce a day for a year, or 57 joints, to consume all the pot he was growing. But authorities are basing that accusation on faulty assumptions about plant yield and patient consumption, said Chris Conrad, a self-described cannabis expert from El Cerrito who testified for the defense.
Agencies like the National Institute on Drug Abuse give figures on how much pot a medical marijuana patient might need, and these figures make Harrison's use seem reasonable, Conrad said. He pointed out that a federal medical marijuana program provides its patients six or seven pounds of cannabis a year. But law enforcement authorities keep these figures away from officers, according to Conrad. "So the police officer thinks a pound is too much," Conrad told The Enterprise later. "Why don't the feds tell the cops how much they give? I don't really blame the police." Conrad added that patients such as Harrison need to grow more than they can use in a year to insulate against the risks of growing. He noted that cannabis loses about 10 percent of its potency a year, making it good for at least a couple of years.
Logan, the defense attorney, said he hopes an acquittal in the case will help protect legitimate medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution. He added, however, that he'd like more direction from the state on Prop. 215. "I wish there was some kind of uniformity and notice to people with terrible medical conditions," said Logan. "If a cop can say what's too much in his opinion, he might say one joint is too much," Logan continued, adding that state law now protects patients from prosecution. Medical marijuana users should not have to clear up the issue in court and taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for these prosecutions, said Logan. Yook, the prosecutor, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Content Copyright (c) 1999, The Calaveras Enterprise
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