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The Politics Of Pot: Vague Law Means Access To Marijuana Varies

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CHICO – Californians access to medical marijuana has everything to do with their zip code.

Right now, for the residents of Chico and Butte County, there is no legitimate storefront to procure marijuana.

Redding, just 75 miles north, has 19 medical marijuana dispensaries.

Chico patients must grow their plants themselves, join a collective that grows for them or engage in illegal activity if they wish to medicate themselves with marijuana.


It all comes down to the law that made medical marijuana legal in the first place.

Proposition 215 provides very few guidelines for law enforcement officials or medical marijuana users, leaving enforcement subject to court decisions and the leanings of municipalities.

With just a few hundred words, the law is vague, said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey and confusing for police and the public, a notion Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney agrees with.

"Proposition 215 and SB420 did not address all the issues that law enforcement and society would expect to face," Maloney said.

For example, there is nothing in the law about the amount of marijuana one can possess or how it can legally be obtained, an omission that burdens cities and counties across the state.

For Chico, those questions are coming to the forefront, with the City Council expected to weigh in soon on regulations for residential marijuana grows as well as dispensaries.

But even if the council determines particular areas

within the city for dispensaries, the question of whether they are permissible comes down to one individual: Mike Ramsey.

As the chief law enforcement official in the county, he interprets the state's laws and court decisions.

Ramsey's opinion on what is and isn't permissible by law drives the type of cases that are prosecuted in the county.

And in his opinion, any cash exchange for marijuana is tantamount to criminal conduct.

"You can't zone for illegal uses," Ramsey said. "You can have legitimate cooperatives or collectives growing in a commune style. But storefront dispensaries are illegal."

Ramsey said the spirit of collectives and cooperatives is to provide help to those who cannot grow medicinal marijuana on their own.

Caretakers are also allowed to participate in the process on behalf of patients, but Ramsey said dispensaries cannot take on the role as caretaker and cooperatives are only supposed to grow marijuana for a closed set of patients.

"The cooperative or collective can grow marijuana, but there is no provision for the distribution or sale of marijuana," Ramsey said. "You cannot sell marijuana."

There is likely no law enforcement official in the state that will argue that the sale of marijuana is legal.

But there are many who interpret the law differently than Ramsey and see dispensaries as legitimate operations.

In Humboldt County, where there are a handful of dispensaries, District Attorney Paul Gallegos said to his knowledge no dispensary owners have faced criminal prosecution from his office.

Gallegos, who said he voted for Proposition 215, agreed with Ramsey the trouble with enforcing the law is that Proposition 215 is "murky" and provides no "clear cut guidelines."

"When the law gives that much discretion you see very different applications," Gallegos said. "You get varied perspectives."

But while he wouldn't go as far as labeling dispensaries legal, Gallegos did say he doesn't perceive a problem with the purchase of marijuana, as long as an entity isn't making a profit.

"The law actually allows the exchange of cash; it allows for just compensation," Gallegos said.

Gallegos said he has yet to see any evidence of a dispensary in Humboldt County violating this premise and said no local law enforcement officials have brought him concerns over illegal activity at dispensaries.

He added that even if there was suspicion that illegal activity was occurring at dispensaries, law enforcement officials have a tough burden of proof in prosecuting cases because of Proposition 215.

Collecting sufficient evidence for prosecution could drain resources for a problem that doesn't necessarily bring a high level of concern to the public's safety, Gallegos said.

"It's marijuana," Gallegos said. "It's not the crime of the century."

Gallegos said his role as a district attorney is to enforce the law in a manner that balances the rights of individuals, and said when it comes to medical marijuana, he strives to protect the rights one has to assuage their personal pain.

"I believe the alleviation of suffering is a worthwhile goal," Gallegos said.

But, for those who see legitimacy in dispensaries, Ramsey sees a play for political power.

He said he discussed the criminality of storefront dispensaries with a district attorney in the Bay Area.

Ramsey said the DA there conceded that dispensaries are illegal, but said he held an allegiance to his constituents, who overwhelmingly support dispensaries.

"Basically he told me he was not going to enforce the law," Ramsey said.

Which to Ramsey, only exemplifies another belief of his.

"Medical marijuana is more about politics and profit, than medicine," Ramsey said.

News Hawk: Warbux 420 MAGAZINE
Source: ChicoER.com
Author: Toni Scott
Contact: HOME - Chico Enterprise Record
Copyright: 2010 ChicoER.com
Website: The Politics of Pot: Vague law means access to marijuana varies - Chico Enterprise Record