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Ventura County

Medicinal Pot Policy Criticized by Supervisors

Law enforcement: Board fumes that it wasn't consulted when guidelines were set in March. Police agencies say that wasn't required.

June 05, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors criticized law enforcement leaders Tuesday for quietly setting a standard for medicinal marijuana possession without consulting local health officials, patients or other experts.

Calling the guidelines narrow and incomplete, supervisors want police officials who drafted the guidelines to reconvene and gather more expert opinions on the issue.

"I was never called on this," Supervisor John K. Flynn said during the board's regular weekly meeting. "I'm really concerned."

While the board has no authority over the multi-agency policy adopted in late March, Flynn and other supervisors believe they should have been consulted as the guidelines were being drafted and that the process should have been more open to the public.

The policy came to light last month when a chronically ill Ventura man complained to the board that police officers had confiscated most of his plants despite his written doctor's recommendation to smoke marijuana, as permitted under Proposition 215.

In response to a request by Flynn, the county counsel's office delivered a packet of information to the supervisors detailing the history of the new guidelines, which allow a patient with a doctor's note to possess six plants of any size or one pound of dried marijuana.

Law enforcement officials said they spent two years researching the policies of counties across the state and also studied written testimony and evidence from patients and experts in science, law and medicine. The policy was approved by the Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office and the chiefs of the county's five independent police departments.

"We looked at feedback from all sides of this issue," Sheriff Bob Brooks said in an interview Tuesday. "Our policy is a very liberal understanding of the need for the medicinal use of marijuana."

Brooks added that numerous county law enforcement policies are made frequently without notifying the board.

"The sheriff does not need board approval of our arrest policies and practices," Brooks said, adding that he would agree to meet with county department leaders and patients but did not expect specifics of the marijuana policy to change.

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez, one of five area police chiefs who approved the guidelines, concurred with Brooks.

"I don't think we've made a decision in a vacuum. A number of policies in the state were consulted to formulate this," Lopez said.

About 10 people addressed the board Tuesday on the issue, most notably Jay Cavanaugh, a former member of the state board of pharmacies who now runs the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis.

"It surprised me to hear a number of supervisors comment about not having been consulted," said Cavanaugh, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and immunology.

Cavanaugh told supervisors that possession guidelines need to take into account that a patient who plants marijuana seeds won't know if the plants are male or female until after they have spouted. This is significant because only female plants produce smokable buds, he said.

Additionally, Cavanaugh challenged a police contention that most marijuana plants yield up to a pound of smokable pot, saying a plant will sometimes only produce an ounce.

"This policy has a host of assumptions--that you will never have any males, that all the plants will mature, that you won't have any pest problems and that you won't lose anything," Cavanaugh said.

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Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

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