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Ventura County

County Adopts Guidelines on Medicinal Pot

Treatment: Supervisors on Tuesday will discuss law enforcement's allowance of six plants or 1 pound of dried marijuana per patient.

June 01, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After six years of wrangling with medicinal marijuana users on a case-by-case basis, Ventura County law enforcement officials have officially adopted a set of guidelines that lay out how much pot a person can legally possess.

The guidelines, which allow for six plants of any size or 1 pound of dried pot for an approved patient, will be discussed publicly for the first time Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

"They are needed to give both front-line officers and narcotics officers some parameters to work with," Undersheriff Craig Husband said Friday.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, commonly known as the Compassionate Use Act, which allows a seriously ill person to use marijuana with a written recommendation from a physician.

However, the law does not include a provision for how much marijuana a person can grow or possess, a decision that state leaders have said should be left to individual counties.

In the absence of standards, police officers across the state were left to guess what constituted a reasonable amount of marijuana. This, activists said, led to unnecessary arrests and the seizure of legally grown pot.

"We had a couple of bad experiences where an arrest was made and people alleged we had taken their plants and destroyed them," said Walter Wall, assistant county counsel. "We needed something that gives people some expectation on how we interpret the law."

For 66-year-old Jerry Wilbanks, the guidelines are a step in the right direction, but far too restrictive for medicinal users who want to grow a large crop that can yield several pounds of marijuana at once.

The Ventura man, who said he smokes marijuana for chronic pain resulting from several back and heart surgeries, asked the Board of Supervisors two weeks ago to outline and discuss the guidelines after officers came to his home and confiscated 34 of his 38 marijuana plants. He was allowed to keep several ounces of dried pot in his freezer.

A Decision After Nearly Two Years of Research

With little fanfare and no publicity, a panel of city and county law enforcement leaders adopted the guidelines more than two months ago after spending nearly two years conducting research on the issue.

Because this is a policy among law enforcement agencies, supervisors will not vote on the rules, but only make the issue public.

Sheriff Bob Brooks, outgoing Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and the chiefs of police in Ventura, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Santa Paula and Port Hueneme have all signed off on the guidelines.

Officials drafted the policy by studying guidelines in several Northern California counties.

They opted to mimic Butte and El Dorado counties, which also allow for six plants or 1 pound of dried pot.

Local law enforcement officials maintain one marijuana plant can produce about 1 pound of dried pot, which can be used to make about 1,000 cigarettes. A patient could, therefore, smoke nearly three cigarettes a day for nearly a year, the officials said.

The guidelines, in effect since late March, come in the wake of a lawsuit filed by three unnamed activists in 2000 against the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. The plaintiffs asked a judge to specify how much a patient could possess.

The suit was dismissed when law enforcement leaders finished drafting the guidelines.

Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Greg Totten, the incoming district attorney, supports the new guidelines but said his office will continue to prosecute people who are not legitimate medicinal users.

Totten and other officials said they supported the guidelines, but were less than enthusiastic about the pending public discussion.

"I'm not advocating everyone using marijuana, and that's the problem with bringing it up," said Supervisor John Flynn, but "we have to address the issue and make people aware of the guidelines."

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