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Medical-Marijuana Dialogue Sought

Riverside County board asks officials for more details after advocates urge implementation of Proposition 215. 'That's all we wanted,' one says.

March 10, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

After listening to emotional testimony from medical-marijuana advocates, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided to seek more information about allowing the medical use of the drug.

Board Chairman Roy Wilson asked the county district attorney to explain his view on prosecuting medical-marijuana users. He also asked the county's public health officer to discuss a new state law under which people with legitimate marijuana needs will be given identification cards so they are not arrested.

"That's all we wanted," said Lanny Swerdlow of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project in Palm Springs. "For years, we've been trying to get this information: How is the law enforced in Riverside County?"

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which legalized the use of medical marijuana. The state Department of Health Services is trying to determine how to implement the state lawon IDs for medical-marijuana users. Counties can offer temporary cards until the state issues a protocol, but Riverside County has not taken up the issue.

At the meeting, several patients described how they were prosecuted for growing marijuana to treat their illnesses.

La Vonne Victor and her husband, Martin, spent $30,000 fighting felony charges of cultivating and selling marijuana after police raided their Temecula home in 2000 and found 12 plants. La Vonne Victor, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, and Martin Victor Sr., who is going blind, had prescriptions for marijuana from their doctor. The charges against her were eventually dismissed, while the charges against him were reduced to a misdemeanor with a $100 fine.

"I'm a law-abiding citizen. I always have been," La Vonne Victor testified. "All I know is that cannabis has helped me get back into the mainstream of life."

Venia Labeaux of Lake Elsinore, who is HIV positive, was also arrested after sheriff's deputies found marijuana growing in her backyard. She smokes marijuana to ward off the nausea from taking 18 pills a day on an empty stomach and to cultivate an appetite. Charges against Labeaux were also dismissed.

"At that time, with my prescription and a recommendation from my doctor, I thought that I was protected. I wasn't," she said. "I stand before you today asking for you to implement [the law]."

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