In a world where the line between legal and criminal is almost always
written in black and white, California's medicinal marijuana law stands as
a wide, gray gulf between clashing factions, all searching for an answer to
a single question.

How much is too much?

If a case that made its way to the Ventura County courthouse this past week
proves anything, it's that the answer is not coming anytime soon.

But at least one county supervisor thinks it might be time for his board to
take the lead in deciding how much marijuana a person can grow legally for
medicinal use in Ventura County.

"Perhaps this would be an area for the board to develop some guidelines
here," Supervisor John Flynn said. "I think it has to be dealt with, and no
one seems to be doing anything about it."

Currently, county law enforcement, prosecutors and marijuana patients are
operating in a legal limbo created by the vague language of Proposition
215. The measure, approved in 1996 by wide margins in both Ventura County
and the state, made it legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation to
grow, possess and use marijuana to relieve the pain and suffering of
serious ailments, including cancer and AIDS.

The law, however, set no standards on how much marijuana could be grown or

Some cities and counties have set their own limits. Medicinal marijuana
users can have up to 10 plants in the city of Arcata, and up to 12 immature
or six mature plants in Mendocino County.

But in guidelineless Ventura County, some users have been arrested, only to
see prosecutors refuse to file charges. Patients have successfully gone to
court to get back marijuana plants confiscated during their arrests. But no
one feels any closer to the answer to the central question.

Sheriff Bob Brooks said last week that he's looking to the District
Attorney's Office for guidance.

But Chief Deputy District Attorney Gregory Totten said the state should set
the guidelines. And there are no indications the state plans to do it
anytime soon.

That leaves court cases such as the one involving Craig and Lisa Schulz
[error for Schwarz] to gobble up taxpayers' time and money.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed charges
against the Camarillo couple, who were arrested in July 1999 for growing 68
pot plants in their house and yard.

The Sheriff's Department felt the number of plants was more than what Lisa
Schulz [Schwarz] needed for her crippling back pain and migraine headaches.

At first, prosecutors agreed, and the case moved forward for nearly 18
months. But during Wednesday's hearing, after testimony from Schulz
[Schwarz] and an expert on the yield of marijuana plants and amounts used
in medical treatment, prosecutors changed their minds.

After the decision, Andrea Nagy, who had her own run-ins with the District
Attorney's Office when it closed down her medical marijuana dispensary in
Thousand Oaks, said prosecutors showed they "have a heart."

Deputy District Attorney Bill Redmond, who prosecuted the Schulzes, said it
was merely a decision based on information that came out during the hearing.

"Because the law is so undefined as to quantity, these cases will continue
to go to court," Redmond said.

In fact, someone growing fewer plants could still face criminal charges if
their symptoms aren't as extreme as Lisa Schulz's, Redmond said.

That kind of thinking does not help law enforcement, said Brooks, who was
not pleased with Wednesday's decision.

"I was really disappointed with the 68-plants case because I think it sends
a message," he said.

Brooks said Proposition 215 is among the most difficult laws his department
deals with. Deputies have no guidelines out in the field to tell them who
is growing too much pot and who is not.

"It's fraught with peril," Brooks said. "We're not out to harass people.
But it's very tough to deal with."

J. David Nick, Lisa Schulz's San Francisco attorney, filed a lawsuit last
week on behalf of another Ventura County patient -- this one anonymous --
to get a court to set the guidelines. The client, Nick said, wants to avoid
the legal morass the Schulzes fell into.

"It may eventually force a statewide benchmark," Nick said of the suit. "I
can't imagine counties would want to deal with this flood of litigation."

In light of such difficulties, Flynn said, it might be time for county
government to start exploring options. It's clear that marijuana helps some
patients, and it's clear the voters think those patients should have access
to the drug, Flynn said. So in the coming weeks, he may ask the Board of
Supervisors to take up the issue.

"If people absolutely need this, they should have a way to get it without
the fear of getting arrested," Flynn said.

Newshawk: Dale Gieringer
Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2001
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Ventura County Star
Address: P.O. Box 6711, Ventura CA 93006
Fax: (805) 650-2950
Author: Bruce McLean