Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Northern California's in the weeds

Northern California's in the weeds

By Norma Watkins, Times Correspondent

We live in the Emerald Triangle here in Northern California. The area comprising Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties is named not for the redwoods but for that other green stuff — marijuana. Some days this place feels so different from the rest of the country, it might as well be the Emerald City of Oz.

Measure B passed this summer in Mendocino County, 52 percent to 48. You probably haven't heard of Measure B, but it's all we talked about out here in what we consider forward-thinking California.

Measure B repeals Measure G. An explanation: In l996, by referendum, California legalized medical marijuana, but left it up to each county to set the standards.

In Measure G, Mendocino County decided the appropriate amount of pot for a sick person possessing the required letter from a doctor was — get ready — 25 plants or 2 pounds of processed weed.

Have you ever seen fully grown marijuana plants? They're as big as Christmas trees — 10 to 12 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide. Imagine 25 of them. Somebody who knows what he's doing can get 2 pounds of processed weed from one plant. That's 50 pounds per patient.

A pound of processed marijuana looks like a bed pillow. I know because I went with a sick friend last year when he took his pound into the local Safeway to weigh it on the produce scale.

We're not talking about a pound of twigs and seeds like we used to get, stuff that looked as if you'd collected it from under a tree and which you had to pick through for an hour to get enough for a joint. This is a pillowcase stuffed with buds: big, fat, juicy, green buds.

In the old days, you smoked a joint with your friends, got silly and ate a lot of ice cream with Fritos. According to the Potency Monitoring Project (great name!), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana has doubled since 1983. With the new product, you take a puff and hallucinate. Nothing's funny and you're not thinking about a snack because you're too worried about whether you're still upright.

Two pounds of this stuff, in my humble opinion, would send a medically needy person to the Promised Land ahead of schedule. By the time you smoke your way through 2 pounds, much less 50, you're either cured or dead.

Then there are those 25 plants legally growing in your next-door neighbor's yard, medical letter posted on the front door to keep the law at bay. Consider the smell alone. The scent of mature marijuana can fell a skunk.

There are burglaries. Over the hill in Ukiah, a man watched as a thief crossed his yard carrying a gun and climbed a fence to steal the neighbor's dope. The neighbor caught him in the act and got shot in the hand for his trouble.

Not only can you personally have 25 plants, you can grow for sick friends. There are operations with nine medical letters posted on the door, each good for 25 plants.

In our climate, if you know your stuff, you get three crops a year. You can also grow indoors, in a shed or greenhouse, or get a couple of those metal shipping containers. Cut some holes for ventilation, set up big fans, and dump in some CO2 to speed things along. Add a discreetly muffled generator if you're not on the grid, and things will hum along 24/7.

Maybe you're producing for your own sick self, but let's say you start feeling better and decide to sell your crop. You're looking at six figures per year, cash, no taxes.

To no one's surprise, people from outside the county saw an opportunity and seized it. They flocked up here to grow. We heard about a man who sold his house in England to come.

As long as you possess enough medical letters to justify the number of plants, the local law can't touch you. Our tree trimmer said he was cutting on an operation so big they had Rhodesian ridgebacks patrolling the perimeter.

Local people got fed up. On the one-block alley behind my friend Harry's house, there are three grow houses. And things have gotten more dangerous. Twice in the last month, grow houses have been robbed by armed men. In one case, the owner was beaten so badly he had to be airlifted to the hospital.

Measure B set the same standard as the rest of the state. If you have a medical letter, you or your caregiver can have six mature plants or 12 immature, and no more than 8 processed ounces. Unless you have special permission from the doctor — then you can have more.

When Measure B was first proposed, the medical marijuana growers went nuts. Signs sprouted all over the county: "Vote No on B," "Don't Punish Small, Local Caregivers." The anti-B people ran a candidate for supervisor, the lady who runs Herban Legend, our local dope store. This is the place where you go with your medical letter and buy marijuana in myriad flavors, from Purple Urple to Train Wreck. If you prefer not to inhale, you can choose brownies or dope-laced lollipops.

But Measure B passed. The Herban Legend lady lost.

We could solve the whole problem by doing what the Mendocino Board of Supervisors recommends: legalize the stuff. It's a multibillion-dollar business up here in the Emerald Triangle, larger than our second crop — tourists. If it were legal, we'd at least get the tax money. The price of marijuana gets jacked up 1,000 percent on the black market. If it were legal, the bad guys might give up and move on to something more profitable.

Meanwhile, with Measure B in effect, local law enforcement won't be completely hamstrung. Any large grower will be suspect, and hopefully, prosecuted.

The anti-B folks haven't given up. They may have lost the vote, but they're appealing in court.

Don't you wish you lived here? To the East Coast, we may seem demented, but usually we're just a decade ahead of the rest of the country. Get ready.

Norma Watkins, a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal, lives in Miami and northern California. Her Web site is www.normawatkins.com.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Palm Springs law could allow some medical marijuana dispensaries

Palm Springs law could allow some medical marijuana dispensaries

Medical marijuana task force to review draft law on Tuesday

K Kaufmann
The Desert Sun

Palm Springs could become the first city in the Coachella Valley to permit
medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city ” providing they
comply with state guidelines released in August and are located in areas
zoned for industrial use.

City officials have drafted an ordinance that would ban for-profit
dispensaries in the city, but allow dispensaries organized as non-profit
collectives or cooperatives, as defined in guidelines recently issued by
state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Under the proposed law dispensaries also would be limited to the city's
industrial zones and would have to be at least 500 feet from any school,
park, playground or residential area.

The city's medical marijuana task force will meet to discuss the proposed
law at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Palm Springs City Hall, 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon
Way. The City Council is also expected to review, but not vote on the law at
its meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"We're trying to figure out a way to reasonably allow activities within the
state's Compassionate Use Act, while still recognizing we have federal law
that suggest this is illegal drug activity," said City Attorney Doug
Holland. "The idea here is to try to provide balance."

California law allows medical use of marijuana for people with a doctor's
letter of recommendation. Federal law bans all use or cultivation.

Holland said the law would also go the city's Planning Commission before
coming back to the council for a final vote.

Stacy Hochanadel, the owner of the CannaHelp dispensary located in one of
the city's industrial zones, said his business would pass muster under the
ordinance, should it become law.

"We're 524 feet from the nearest residential project, property line to
property line," Hochanadel said today.

The other two dispensaries in Palm Springs — Community Caregivers and the
Collective Apothecary of Palm Springs, or C.A.P.S. — are both located on
Palm Canyon Drive in commercial zones.

Representatives for the dispensaries were not immediately available for



Legalize marijuana?: Farmington graduate in medical drug debate

Legalize marijuana?: Farmington graduate in medical drug debate

— By Alysa Landry — The Daily Times
Article Launched: 09/29/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

FARMINGTON — The clash between federal and state governments about the legalization of medical marijuana hit home for one former Farmington resident.

He was convicted last month of federal drug distribution despite state laws that allowed it.

Charles Lynch, a 1980 Farmington High School graduate, was found guilty in a federal court Aug. 5 of five counts of distributing drugs. Lynch, 46, owned and operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, Calif.

California was the first of 12 states, including New Mexico, to legalize medical marijuana, yet federal statutes trump state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the reasons the drug is distributed are irrelevant, and prescribers, distributors and users can be federally prosecuted.

California legalized possession of the drug for medical reasons in 1996; New Mexico passed a similar law last year.

Lynch, who moved to California shortly after earning a degree in computer science from the University of New Mexico, opened a dispensary in 2006, a decade after the state legalized sale of the drug. Dispensaries, like pharmacies, are subject to strict laws and owners can distribute only to clients with prescriptions or referrals from medical doctors.

Lynch's interest in medical marijuana stemmed from his own experience.

"I suffered from migraine headaches that were so bad I wasn't able to keep a job," he said during a phone interview. "After trying all kinds of traditional methods, I tried medical marijuana."

Migraines are on the list of approved conditions for use of medical marijuana, but regulations are stiff and dispensaries are sparse. Lynch traveled 100 miles each way to the nearest dispensary to fill his prescription. He opened his facility, Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, with the blessing of elected officials in Morro Bay.

"The city welcomed me with open arms," he said. "The mayor, the city attorney, the city council supported me. The city granted me a business license, and I found a compassionate landlord to allow me to open my facility."

A couple of months later, Lynch received a nursery permit that allowed him to grow cannabis at his facility.

Police raided the dispensary in March 2007 and Lynch's landlord was threatened two months later with seizure of his property if he did not evict Lynch.

Lynch was arrested in July 2007 and convicted 13 months later. His sentencing is next month, and he faces five to 85 years in prison.

The trial

Prosecutors claim Lynch violated federal law by selling $2.1 million worth of marijuana in less than a year. During the 11 months his facility was open, Lynch served about 3,000 clients, he said.

"I was the only dispensary in a 400-mile radius," he said. "I gained a lot of clients in that year, but many referrals are good for only about a year, so I didn't have all 3,000 clients at the same time."

Prosecutors fault Lynch for selling to clients who were not old enough to drink, including 17-year-old Owen Beck, a high school athlete who lost a leg to bone cancer. The teen's parents took Beck to Lynch's facility after traditional medication failed to ease his pain.

About 250 of Lynch's clients were younger than 21, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kowal told jurors during the trial. Selling to these clients carries sentencing enhancement under federal law.

Prosecutors also tried to prove Lynch was making a profit, according to court documents.

In his opening statement, Kowal told jurors Lynch distributed more than 100 kilos of marijuana, and when the facility was raided, police and federal agents discovered a backpack containing $27,000 in cash.

The money possibly was part of an illegal side business orchestrated by one of Lynch's employees, Lynch said.

"One of my employees allegedly was selling on the streets," he said. "The government held me criminally liable for that."

Lynch's defense attorneys tried to argue their client was dispensing the drug to sick people in accordance with state law, but U.S. District Judge George Wu banned the term "medical marijuana" from his courtroom, according to court files.

Jury selection also was difficult, with potential jurors citing confusion about the conflict between state and federal laws or strong opinions about medical marijuana.

The defense called the case an entrapment, claiming government officials led Lynch to believe his actions were legal, when actually they put him in a position to be prosecuted.

Lynch's attorneys also argued that he was targeted unfairly when there are hundreds of dispensaries operating in California.

Lynch was convicted of one count each of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, criminal conspiracy and maintaining a drug house, and two counts of selling to people younger than 21.

Lynch maintains he was within his constitutional rights.

"The California law was based on the 10th amendment," he said. "It gives the states the right to rule themselves."

Local support

Lynch's mother, Bodine Jones, was at home in Farmington last July when she received a call from one of her son's friends.

The man told her Lynch was in jail after being arrested on federal drug distribution charges.

"We were devastated," said Lynch's sister, Amanda Garcia. "We immediately packed our bags and jumped into the car and drove to California."

Bail was set at $400,000, which the family posted in real estate and cash. Lynch was released, but fitted with an ankle monitor and placed on house arrest.

His family, two brothers and one sister, stood by him during the trial and continue to support him.

"In our minds, he has done nothing wrong," Garcia said. "Maybe his biggest crime was being a little bit naive."

Jones said she looked up to her son because of the risk he took to get medical marijuana to sick clients. Lynch often distributed marijuana at no charge to those who needed it most, according to court records.

"I am 100 percent in favor of him," Jones said. "He was exploring new frontiers, and he was doing it legally. He was proud of his operation, and I was proud of him, but saddened that the federal government focused on him."

Lynch has no criminal record, and locals remember him as a model citizen.

Gene Bennett, owner of The Frame Corner in Farmington, taught art at Tibbetts Middle School in the 1970s. He remembers Lynch as a "great kid."

"It's been a lot of years," he said, "but he was a great student, a great kid. I was really shocked when he got into this mess. I can't believe he would be anything but up front. He was always the straight-arrow type."

Lynch will ask the federal judge Oct. 6 for a new trial. If denied, he will be sentenced Oct. 20.

How to help

The Lynch family is gathering signatures on a petition asking for leniency in sentencing for Charles Lynch. For information, call (505) 325-6303 or visit www.amandagarcia.com/stopthelynching.

Legalizing medical marijuana

States that have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana:

Alaska, 1998

California, 1996

Colorado, 2000

Hawaii, 2000

Maine, 1999

Montana, 2004

Nevada, 2000

New Mexico, 2007

Oregon, 1998

Rhode Island, 2007

Vermont, 2004

Washington, 1998

Diseases and conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed:


Alzheimer's Disease





Crohn's Disease





Multiple Sclerosis




Wasting Syndrome

*Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, November 2002

Alysa Landry:



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Marijuana in your national park

Marijuana in your national park

John Driscoll/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 09/28/2008 01:34:04 AM PDT

It looked something like slash-and-burn agriculture -- in a national park.

Trees hacked, pot-holed ground, bare slopes, and hundreds of yards of black pipe, fertilizer, and a camp with propane stoves, cooking oil and food. In Copper Creek in the Bald Hills between Orick and Hoopa, last week, a Redwood National Park crew went to survey the damage from a major marijuana grow busted earlier this month.

Local, state and federal agents broke up the operation and seized nearly 9,600 plants. Five illegal aliens were detained nearby during the operation, and while suspected of involvement were not arrested.

The work that went into the grow was enormous. About 5 acres was cleared of dense brush -- most of it done by hand -- and large areas were terraced and planted. A trail network connected the five distinct sites and the "hooch," the camp built survival-style with raised beds made of tanoak poles and ferns.

It is a steep, long hike through huckleberry, tanoak, downed timber and poison oak.

"This is where they like to put them," said park Supervising Ranger Corky Farley of illegal grows on public land, "where no one will go."

All of the material needed for the grow would have been packed down on foot. There was evidence that the growers would dry the pot, bag it on site, and then pack it out. At the end of the season, had the grow not been busted, all the material would likely have been left behind.

A few hundred feet before reaching the "hooch" two rangers with AR-15 assault rifles took off ahead to clear the area.
Growers will often defend gardens, and there was some concern that they might have returned. It appeared that they hadn't been back.

The park team was looking for fertilizers and pesticides and other hazardous materials, and accounting for the damage done on the ground, to get an idea of what it would take to rehabilitate the place.

After a couple of hours, the team found some fertilizer and possibly some pesticides. It traced a long section of black irrigation pipe to an impounded stream. Some in the team also stumbled on a small garden that hadn't been found by agents during the bust. The carcass of a Pacific fisher was found nearby.

As far as grows on public land is concerned, it wasn't as bad as some, said park Chief of Vegetation Management Leonel Arguello. No huge amount of pesticides were found, and while the area that was disturbed was large, Arguello felt that piling slash over the bare ground would stem most erosion. Redwoods cut this spring were sprouting.

"Everything grows in this park," Arguello said.

But it will be years before the site is back to normal.

Illegal grows on public land aren't new, but they have been increasing in recent years. The Redwood National Park grow is the first one officials have discovered there, and other parks have recently been introduced to such operations.

Agents broke up a 16,000-plant grow in North Cascades National Park recently, the first known grow on federal park land in Washington. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park have also seen pot operations crop up.

The National Park Service recently vowed to aggressively fight marijuana operations.

"We cannot be complacent about this," park service Director Mary Bomar said in a statement. "Marijuana cultivation operations are dangerous, illegal and they destroy valuable natural resources people cherish."

Many of the operations have been linked to Mexican drug cartels, and often those tending the gardens are pawns in the operation. A poignant example of this was found at the Copper Creek site. Park fisheries biologist David Anderson held up a boot with a worn-through sole that had been replaced with cut-out cardboard.

"There's a sad story," Anderson said.

With the Copper Creek gardens surveyed, the Redwood National Park team has asked the National Guard to help clean up the site, hauling out garbage and other materials, which will be a major effort.

To some degree, the assessment of the grow was encouraging, in that the damage was minor compared to other operations. But it's where the grow was placed -- inside a heavily visited park that is also a World Heritage Site -- that troubled Farley.

"This site probably isn't as bad as most," Farley said, "but it's still your national park."



Friday, September 26, 2008

Man sues Seal Beach police for taking medical marijuana

Man sues Seal Beach police for taking medical marijuana

The 45-year-old says police took 40 to 50 plants and forced him to become an informant and move out of the city.


The Orange County Register

SEAL BEACH– A former resident is suing the Police Department and the city for $1 million, alleging the police confiscated about 40 to 50 marijuana plants and coerced him to move and become a police informant, court records show.

Bruce Benedict, 43, said in his lawsuit that he is a patient and caregiver of medical marijuana, which allows him to grow and distribute the narcotic to patients with prescriptions under California law.

Benedict is suing in Orange County Superior Court for violation of civil and health and safety codes and breach of contract. He is seeking a trial by jury but a hearing date has not yet been set.

The city's attorney did not return phone calls about the case.

Benedict was prescribed medical marijuana six years ago because he suffers from Hepatitis C and has had kidney failure twice, he said.

He said he called the police in February because construction was being done on a red tagged apartment in his building.

When police arrived, Benedict said the officers "smelled marijuana coming from [the]apartment".

Officers Mike Henderson and David Barr of the Seal Beach Police Department entered his apartment and took photos of Benedict's marijuana plants, according to the lawsuit, filed Aug. 29.

Benedict said he also gave the officers his paperwork that permitted him to smoke and grow cannabis.

The lawsuit states that Henderson took the pictures to the District Attorney's office but the prosecutors denied pursuing charges against Benedict.

The officers returned to Benedict's apartment in June with Drug Enforcement Administration agents and confiscated Benedict's plants and arrested him, court records show.

DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen said the agency cannot comment on a pending lawsuit.

California law allows medical marijuana but federal law prohibits it, a contradiction many Orange County cities are struggling with.

State law says a person can have up to six mature marijuana plants but counties have the authority to change this rule.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department implements the six-plant criteria, said spokesman Damon Micalizzi said.

A doctor's recommendation can also override these guidelines, according to state law.

"The law clearly authorizes caregivers to provide cannabis to clients and to charge for their service for doing so," said Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "It is intended to be loose."

Benedict said the officers also asked him to become an informant in various drug matters for the city and move from Seal Beach. Benedict complied with the requests, the lawsuit states.

"They asked me to work for them or face federal charges," he said.

Benedict was convicted twice in 1988 for possession of narcotics, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Benedict said he had small amounts of cocaine on him when pulled over by the police on two occasions.

"I am a person who learned the hard way," he said. "That was a long time ago."

Contact the writer: 714-445-6692 or jfletcher@ocregister.com

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Craig X, pot pastor, candidate for LA mayor

Craig X, pot pastor, candidate for LA mayor

By Brad A. Greenberg

Two years ago, Craig X Rubin started a unique church where pot was used to communicate prayers to God. Temple 420 (still around) was odd and unorthodox—mixing Christians and Jews and claiming that cannabis was the Tree of Life—and it landed Rubin in court. He avoided jail, and this month re-appeared on The God Blog. Today, Rubin sent me a note announcing his candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles.

I believe Rubin has filed with the clerk's office; here's his campaign website- http://www.craigx4mayor.org/.

Previously, Rubin told me he was a Reagan Republican, albeit one who opposes the war on drugs. His mayoral campaign platform consists of building a water desalination plant in the Pacific; bringing back the car manufacturing and aerospace companies that left in the early `90s; and getting the feds off California's back (namely when it comes to their intermittent raids and harassment of medical marijuana facilities).

Craig X will officially announce his candidacy at the LA Press Club on Monday evening, an hour before the end of the Jewish year. He said that's not coincidental.

"This is the Day of Judgment in my culture and at this time in the history of the City of Los Angeles," Rubin said in a statement. "Working together we can make the City of Angels a heavenly place to live."

No wonder L.A.'s current mayor is in San Antonio seeking re-election cash. Look out, Antonio.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Garden Grove bans medical marijuana dispensaries

Garden Grove bans medical marijuana dispensaries

City Council members say they are concerned about regulating these
businesses and their negative effect on neighborhoods


The Orange County Register

GARDEN GROVE - City Council members voted to pass an ordinance
banning medical marijuana dispensaries.

Several people spoke against the proposed ordinance on dispensaries
at Tuesday night's council meeting. No one spoke in favor of the ban.

Council members voted 4-1 for the ordinance prohibiting the
dispensaries, with Councilman Mark Rosen casting the sole dissenting

Rosen said he would like more information from police about an
existing unauthorized medical marijuana clinic in Garden Grove.

"I'd like to find out if this facility has had any negative impacts
on the community," he said.

Police officials said no incidents were reported at or near the
dispensary on Brookhurst Street in the seven months it has operated.
Several speakers at the meeting also said they have been buying their
marijuana from this business popularly known among users as "Unit D.".

Police officials confirmed that the business at that location was
licensed as a dance studio but operating as a medical marijuana
dispensary. No children were seen there taking dance lessons,
officials said.

Joe Byron, the owner of the dispensary in question, told the council
that he was not operating covertly and in fact has a general retail
license from the city to do business. He said the business at the
location before his was a dance studio.

"We weren't trying to be covert or sneaky," he said. "In fact, we do
quite a bit of Internet marketing."

But the rest of the council was firmly in support of the ban.

Councilwoman Dina Nguyen said she sympathizes with patients who need
marijuana to ease their pain but believes the clinics would put more
strain on the city's Police Department, which is already

Councilman Steve Jones said the city should not be made to decide on
an issue the state and the federal governments have yet to agree on.
Mayor Bill Dalton said he doesn't support it because it is not
"regulated right."

"I just don't think this is the way marijuana should be dispensed," he said.

Users of medical marijuana who spoke at the meeting said they'd
rather buy their medication from an authorized dispensary.

"It's a much safer environment than trying to get it from a dealer on
the street," said Jason Andrews.

Others said they would have to drive as far as Lake Forest to get
their medication if Garden Grove bans the dispensaries.

The city considered the ban based on the Police Department's
recommendation. Police Chief Joseph Polisar in his report said other
communities have seen adverse affects ranging from burglaries and
robberies to assaults and murders in and around the dispensaries.

Some Orange County cities with moratoriums or permanent bans on pot
dispensaries include Buena Park, Fullerton, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana,
Tustin, Huntington Beach and Placentia. Laguna Woods last week became
the first local city to pass an ordinance allowing medical marijuana

Contact the writer: 714-445-6685 or

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

California sees nearly 75,000 marijuana arrests in 2007

California sees nearly 75,000 marijuana arrests in 2007

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 09/23/2008 01:29:06 AM PDT

The nearly 75,000 marijuana-related arrests in California last year are
prompting marijuana law reform activists to say that laws aren't stopping
people from getting what they want, while local law enforcement responds
that the increased number of arrests is simply the result of tighter

"This has been going on for close to a century now and they're clearly not
eradicating or stopping anything. It just continues," said Dale Gieringer, a
spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

According to the state Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Statistics
Center, 74,119 felony and misdemeanor marijuana arrests were made in 2007, a
jump of nearly 10,000 arrests from 2006, which saw 65,386.

Between 2001 and 2006, the differences from year to year were much smaller.

In Humboldt County alone, more people are getting arrested, and more of
those arrested are getting charged with serious crimes.

The number of marijuana-related arrests in Humboldt nearly doubled between
2006 and 2007, jumping from 564 to 971. In 2006, 138 people were charged
with marijuana felonies, while in 2007 that number ballooned to 550.
Meanwhile, the number of marijuana misdemeanors between the two years has
stayed roughly the same.

Gieringer said the statewide numbers are the highest since 1990, which he
says is a sign that these arrests are only wasting taxpayer money.

Marijuana should be legalized and taxed like alcohol, he said.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos said while there may be some
legitimate reasons to legalize marijuana, increased arrests is not one of

"I don't think the increased arrest is any indication that this needs to be
legalized," he said. "It's no more than if murder went up that we should
legalize murder."

Gallegos said there could be more marijuana in the streets, but more arrests
could also mean an increase in the amount of resources dedicated to
intercepting the drug, as demonstrated by recent federal activity.

"There's been an increase of federal presence, and there's going to be more
increases of fed presence," he said. "What they're seeing is law enforcement
saying, enough is enough."

The main source of the jump in numbers from 2006 to 2007 is felony arrests,
the Criminal Justice Statistics Center numbers show. In 2006, there were
13,548 felony arrests made while 16,124 felony arrests were made in 2007.

The state Department of Justice's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or
CAMP, has also been eradicating more marijuana plants.

Last year the agency pulled 271,000 plants in Humboldt County, up from just
59,000 in 2006.

But Humboldt County Sheriff's Department Spokeswoman Brenda Godsey said the
destruction of those plants probably doesn't add much to the state's arrest
numbers. The Sheriff's Department works closely with CAMP to target
large-scale commercial grows.

"In Humboldt County our efforts are particularly in outdoor grows and
because they can be so dangerous we make a deliberate effort to be
conspicuous and noisy when we enter," she said, adding that their goal is to
eradicate the marijuana.

Regardless of the numbers, Gallegos said the threat of illegal marijuana is
a very real one, citing the abuse of 215 cards.

"They're putting a law that was enacted to alleviate the suffering of ill
people at risk," he said.


The 2007 Numbers:

74,119 arrests statewide

16,124 felony

57,995 misdemeanor

971 arrests in Humboldt County

550 felony

421 misdemeanor

The 2006 Numbers:

65,386 arrests statewide

13,548 felony

51,838 misdemeanor

564 arrests in Humboldt County

138 felony

426 misdemeanor



Monday, September 22, 2008


Sept 20th - Riverside Co. sheriffs raided the collective garden of
Martin & Lavonne Victor in Temecula, destroying their crop and
arresting Martin on $50,000 bail. The Victors were part of a
12-person collective including local MMJ advocates Lanny Swerdlow
and Dave Herrick.
Herrick & LaVonne Victor say the garden was compliant with the
AG's guidelines, consisting of 50 to 70 outdoor plants, mostly
small. The members had state ID cards, and their crop was guarded
by a security fence and cameras, which were seized by the cops. The
collective was well known in Riverside, having operated for eight
years. Sheriffs showed up at the Victors' door on Friday evening,
asking to inspect the coop. The Victors presented books and
paperwork to show they were in compliance with state law. The
sheriffs objected that they did not have a legal license as a
non-profit coop, and hauled Martin off to jail on three felony
charges. "This is BS' says LaVonne, "They knew we were legal." No
"license" is required for collective gardens under Prop. 215 or SB
The raid appears to have been politically motivated, as the
coop's membership includes prominent Riverside patient advocates.
Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project in
Palm Springs, is presently facing trial in a dispute with a local
anti-drug advocate. The Victors were arrested in 2001 for
cultivation, but were dismissed from felony charges under Prop. 215.
Herrick was one of the first medical marijuana patients arrested for
assisting a patient coop in Southern California shortly after
passage of Prop. 215.
- D. Gieringer, Cal NORML

Arcata planners to move forward with dispensary guidelines

Arcata planners to move forward with dispensary guidelines

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 09/22/2008 01:22:55 AM PDT

The Arcata Planning Commission plans to finally move forward with its draft
of medical marijuana dispensary guidelines on Tuesday.

After months of deliberating on the language of the dispensary guidelines,
aimed at imposing restrictions on how dispensaries operate in hopes of
curbing Proposition 215 card abuse, the commission was delayed by the
release of state guidelines late last month.

The commission had decided that it needed more time to evaluate the Office
of the Attorney General's guidelines since several definitions were lacking
from Arcata's current draft code.

Community Development Director Larry Oetker said staff was able to review
the state guidelines and revise Arcata's draft guidelines to bring them up
to compliance. He said the commission can now move the guidelines forward to
the Arcata City Council, and begin to tackle the next big issue -- a state
mandate to create zoning for emergency shelters and find a new location for
the Arcata Service Center.

"We want to manage one major project at a time," Oetker said. The dispensary
guidelines will be an amendment to the recently approved land use codes.

To read staff reports and the draft medical marijuana land use standards, go
to www.cityofarcata.org, click on "Agendas," and proceed to the commission's
Sept. 23 agenda.


If You Go:

What: Arcata Planning Commission meeting

Where: Council Chambers, City Hall, 736 F St.

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ex-suspects want police to pay for dead marijuana plants

Ex-suspects want police to pay for dead marijuana plants

After the case against the Colorado couple fell apart, they were given back their seized property -- which had gone unmaintained in a police evidence room.

By DeeDee Correll, Special to The Times
September 21, 2008

DENVER -- When the Fort Collins police arrested James and Lisa Masters and carted away their 39 marijuana plants, they put the plants where they normally put confiscated property involved in alleged crimes: the evidence room.

And there they sat, without a grow lamp, water or pruning.

A year later, the case against the Masterses -- who claimed they used the drug for medical purposes -- fell apart, and a judge ordered the police to return their property.

"All the plants were dead," said Brian Vicente, one of the attorneys for the couple. "Some had turned to liquid -- this black, moldy liquid. There was mold over everything."

Incensed, the couple asked the Police Department to reimburse them $200,000 for the destroyed plants. City officials refused, and the Masterses are now considering a lawsuit to compel the northern Colorado city to compensate them.

Of the 12 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, Colorado stands out for its law specifying that police must not "harm, neglect or destroy" seized plants in such cases, said Noah Mamber, legal services coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group.

But in the eight years since voters approved the law, no law enforcement agency has had to grapple with that aspect of it, said attorneys familiar with medical marijuana cases.

"There's not a whole lot of case law on this, frankly," Vicente said.

Many situations are resolved without police seizing the plants because it becomes apparent to police that the suspect is authorized to have marijuana, said Rob Corry, another attorney for the Masterses.

In other states, police often destroy the plants during or after an arrest. But that may be changing, Mamber said. He cited a recent case in Burlingame, Calif., where police found a number of marijuana plants and confiscated them until they could find the owner and ascertain whether he was a medical marijuana user. He was.

Police in that case kept the plants less than a week. They didn't water or tend them during that time, Burlingame Police Capt. Mike Matteucci said, adding that the department is not equipped to serve as a nursery.

The outcome of the Colorado case, he said, could help define law enforcement's responsibilities in such matters. "It's uncharted waters here," Matteucci said.

In 2006, James Masters and his wife, Lisa, were arrested on suspicion of felony cultivation and intent to distribute. At the time, they were growing marijuana for themselves and for at least five other people with medical problems, their attorneys said. Lisa Masters, 33, has fibromyalgia and tendinitis; her husband, 31, suffers from chronic nausea and pain from knee and hip problems, Corry said.

Both had doctors' recommendations that they ingest marijuana for their medical issues, but they had not joined the state's registry, Vicente said, because they could not afford the $110 fee.

Those in the registry may possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and as many as six plants, and caregivers may keep up to six plants for each person in their care. Because the Masterses were also serving as caregivers, Vicente said, they were allowed to have the 39 plants.

Because the Masterses weren't listed in the registry, police treated the plants as they would evidence in any other drug case, said Fort Collins police spokeswoman Rita Davis.

"At the time they were confiscated, they didn't have documents to prove it was medical marijuana. They have to have some proof," Davis said.

The Masterses' attorneys maintain that the law doesn't require people to produce documentation when claiming the marijuana is medicinal.

The law says that property should not be neglected or destroyed in cases "where such property has been seized in connection with the claimed medical use of marijuana." It does not specify a criminal penalty when the law is not followed.

In any event, Corry said, the Masterses did provide paperwork showing their doctors' recommendations that they use marijuana.

A judge eventually dismissed the charges, ruling that the police search had been illegal. Until then, the Masterses, who have since joined the state registry, continued to use marijuana provided to them by others, Vicente said. He argued that police should care for the plants they take just as they would an animal or child removed from a home.

"If the police take your pit bull, do they put it in an evidence locker for two months or do they take care of it?" Vicente said. "We plan on holding the police accountable. We're talking about people's medicine here."


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Medical Use For Marijuana

New medical uses found for marijuana

Camille Roane
Issue date: 9/17/08 Section: News

The mounting uses of medicinal marijuana got higher after researchers
> found compounds in marijuana can combat certain strands of bacteria.

Despite these findings, many government organizations still prohibit the
use of marijuana in research.

A recent study by Italian and U.K. scientists, which will be published in
the Sept. Journal of Natural Products shows that cannabinoids, compounds
found in marijuana, could be a potential answer to drug resistant strains
of bacteria.

Researchers isolated five cannabinoids and tested them for their
effectiveness against the bacteria present in drug resistant staph
infections, like methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aurera, the bacteria
responsible for difficult to treat staph infections. All five cannabinoids
and synthetic cannabinoids proved successful against the bacteria,
according to the study.

Center for Disease Control spokeswoman Christine Pearson said there are no
numbers detailing how many MRSA infections occur in the U.S., but 12
million people visit their doctors for skin infections every year.

"The most recent study said that 85 percent of MRSA outbreaks are at
hospitals or other health facilities," said Pearson.

Pearson said she could not comment on the CDC's stance on marijuana
research or the European study that found cannabinoids to be successful at
fighting MRSA.

However, David Rosenbloom, director of Join Together, a Boston University
School of Public Health program devoted to "responsible" drug and alcohol
policy, said he was not surprised by the effectiveness of cannabinoids on
MRSA because a number of beneficial medicines come from plants.

Rosenbloom said the politics of marijuana use are interfering with the
growth of substantial research.

"Neither the pro or con forces want reliable resources because they're
both convinced that their side is right," Rosenbloom said.

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken said it is even difficult
for researchers to get permission to use marijuana in their research.

"Unfortunately, in the U.S. medicinal marijuana has become a political
problem," Mirken said. "The federal government is deeply invested in
demonizing marijuana and seems to be only paying lip service to any
scientists that want to do serious research."

The University of Mississippi is currently the only university in the U.S.
allowed to grow marijuana for research. Any scientists who want to do
research with marijuana must apply to the DEA for approval, Mirken said.

University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher and professor Lyle Craker
applied to the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow marijuana for medicinal
purposes in in 2001 and was denied permission in 2004. Craker said it was
difficult to do real research about potential medicinal benefits of
marijuana because the government is committed to telling the public that
marijuana is bad.

"In my opinion, we need to explore every avenue we have to protect our
health and cure illness," Craker said.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Youths' drug of choice? Prescription

Youths' drug of choice? Prescription

Baby boomers made marijuana their 'gateway' -- and some still can't let go,
a report says -- but a younger generation finds prescription drugs are an
easier score.

By Melissa Healy
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 15, 2008

It's been four decades since the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but aging
baby boomers haven't stopped turning on. The federal government's National
Survey on Drug Use and Health, released earlier this month, finds that as
boomers move into their 50s in large numbers, drug use among older adults in
the United States has hit its highest point ever.

In the government's latest report -- reflecting drug use in 2007 -- 1 in 20
Americans ages 50 to 59 told researchers they had taken illicit drugs in the
last month.

More than half of these older users still like their street drugs, including
marijuana and cocaine. But as they contend with the aches and pains of
aging, boomer drug users are adding prescription drug use to their mix of
vices, according to the report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration.

A new generation of drug users, by contrast, isn't waiting to reach middle
age to add prescription drugs to its portfolio of abuse, the report says.
Among teens and young adults 12 to 25, one-third of those who use illicit
drugs say they recently have abused prescription drugs -- including
painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants. Among kids 12 to 17, 3.3% had
abused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the last month. Among 17- to
25-year-olds, 6% had abused prescription drugs in the last month.

Those generational trends are driving a significant change on the landscape
of American drug abuse. After years of declining American use of street
drugs -- cocaine, hallucinogens and even marijuana -- prescription
medications have begun moving front and center as the nation's drug of

The result, according to the latest federal drug-use survey: Last year,
Americans who began abusing prescription drugs outnumbered those who took up
smoking marijuana -- traditionally the nation's "gateway drug."

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institutes of Health's National
Institute on Drug Abuse, says the report underscores a "paradigm shift" in
drug abuse -- and hence, in its likely treatment. Though addiction to
prescription drugs is not new, the current generation of teens and young
adults has grown up around unprecedented widespread medical use of
prescription drugs, Volkow says, and is inclined to view them as safe
because they are prescribed by doctors.

"That comfort level," Volkow says, "facilitates the abuse" of these
medications. Add to that the high from such drugs as narcotic pain
relievers, she adds, and young users are at high risk of becoming addicted.

Reaching for Mom and Dad's pills

Peter S., a 26-year-old recovering addict from New Jersey, says the ubiquity
of prescription drugs in American homes is reassuring to kids eager to take
a controlled risk or dull the emotional challenges of being a teenager.

"You don't have to go to the drug dealer, or even leave the house," says
Peter, who spoke on condition that his last name not be used. "You can just
go upstairs to Mom's medicine chest and boom! You're locked and loaded. . .
. People feel like, 'Wow, how bad could it be? It came from our doctor. And
I'm not doing street drugs -- cocaine or mushrooms. I'm doing what Mom has
in her medicine cabinet.' "

Many adults, whose images of drug abuse may be dominated by street drugs,
"just don't realize," Peter says, that the leftover pain pills from Mom's
back spasm or the unused anti-anxiety pills prescribed for Dad during a
rough patch at work may furnish a kid's first chance to experiment with
drugs. Parents "take one and feel better and put the rest up there in the
medicine chest," Peter says. "They just don't know."

Volkow adds that a shift toward prescription drug abuse also may make it
harder for the new generation's drug users to "age out" of their habit, as
many baby boomers -- though clearly not all -- have done. Users of street
drugs, Volkow says, frequently quit as they find that unpleasant side
effects become more pronounced with age and prolonged use.

Users of prescription medications, by contrast, tend to build tolerance to
the effects over time, prompting them in some cases to use more, not less,
and more often, Volkow says.

Researchers with the federal substance abuse agency said they remain
uncertain if baby-boomer drug users had continued to take illicit substances
through mid-adulthood or, rather, returned to a youthful habit as they aged.
John P. Walters, the nation's drug czar, expressed surprise that although
young Americans are turning away from cocaine and methamphetamine, use of
such street drugs continues among their elders.

Jim Steinhagen, executive director of the Hazelden Center for Youth and
Families in suburban St. Paul, Minn., says that for young people,
experimentation with prescription drugs only seems safer than their parents'
drug forays.

"We're seeing kids coming to the treatment center more acutely addicted than
we ever have before, so the degree of detox we need is more extensive and
takes a longer period of time," says Steinhagen, a 32-year practitioner of
addiction treatment. "The kind of substance use that goes on today is like
extreme sports for this generation -- quicker, faster, a more dangerous
thrill-seeking experience."

Easy access

Studies suggest that for the current generation, as for past drug users,
efforts to thwart distribution of some drugs shift thrill-seekers to others
that are easier to score -- a dynamic that helps explain the move toward
prescription drugs.

The recent government report comes on the heels of a study by the National
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, showing that
19% of 12- to 17-year-olds believed prescription drugs were easier to lay
hands on than cigarettes, beer and street drugs. The new report also
underscores the ease with which abusers of prescription drugs can get these
controlled substances. More than half who reported they had recently taken
prescription drugs for nonmedical uses said they got the drugs from a friend
or relative for free, and almost 20% got them from a physician. About 1 in
10 who took prescription pain relievers said they bought or stole them from
a friend or relative.

Drug enforcement officials have long noted that teens and young adults
widely trade, sell and steal stimulant medications, heavily prescribed among
student populations to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity

Fewer than 5% told interviewers that they had had to resort to a
drug-dealing stranger to acquire prescription drugs, or even to log onto an
Internet site selling prescription drugs.

Peter S. says his initiation to prescription drugs came from the medicine
chests of his -- and a friend's -- parents.

"I had found Vicodin and Percocet and had heard about them and Xanax and
Valium -- the benzodiazepams -- and took a couple," Peter says. "I reached
up in that medicine chest and took a couple and thought, 'Oh this is fun.'
It made me feel floaty . . . . It was fun in the beginning."

The government report, which also tallies Americans' mental health status,
makes clear that illicit drug use is frequently a form of self-medication.
It found that among 12- to 17-year-olds, roughly 2 million had experienced a
major depressive episode in 2007 -- about 8.2% of that age group's
population. Illicit drug use was roughly twice as high -- 35% -- among those
youths who had experienced depression than among those who had not.




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Friday, September 12, 2008

80% of pot crop invades parks

80% of pot crop invades parks

By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

CHICAGO — Mexican drug cartels are stepping up marijuana cultivation in national parks and on other public land, endangering visitors and damaging the environment, law enforcement and National Park Service officials say.

John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says 75%-80% of marijuana grown outdoors is on state or federal land. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says there were more than 4.8 million marijuana-plant seizures at outdoor sites in 2006.

Tighter border controls make it harder to smuggle marijuana into the USA, so more Mexican drug networks are growing crops here, Walters says.

"We are finding more marijuana gardens in the park year after year," says Jim Milestone, superintendent of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Northern California.

"We're dealing with some bad characters," Milestone says. "We are arresting people … who have criminal records in Mexico, and almost all of them are here illegally with false papers."

The number of marijuana plants confiscated on public land in California grew from 40% to 75% of total seizures between 2001-2007, says the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting task force.

Hunting and cleaning up after pot growers diverts resources at a time when parks face chronic funding shortfalls, says Laine Hendricks of the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association.

Recent busts:

• A site with 16,742 marijuana plants was raided last month in North Cascades National Park in Washington state. It was operated by a Mexican organization, says park Superintendent Chip Jenkins.

People living at the site downed trees, dammed creeks and left 1,000 pounds of trash, he says.

• Thousands of marijuana plants were seized last month in Utah's Dixie National Forest. Ignacio Rodriguez was charged with drug and immigration offenses, says Michael Root, a DEA special agent.

The problem is worst on the West Coast, but law-enforcement pressure on growers, Root says, "has pushed them out this way."

• Last month, officials burned thousands of marijuana plants seized in Cook County, Ill., forest preserves. Drug organizations use the Chicago area as a base for distributing marijuana across the Midwest, says DEA special agent Joanna Zoltay.

• In July and August, officials seized more than 340,000 plants, some from Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.

Ranger Alexandra Picavet says Mexican cartels are responsible for many sites in those parks. They leave behind car batteries and propane tanks and poach deer and birds, she says.

Visitors to wilderness areas are at risk, says Shasta County, Calif., Sheriff Tom Bosenko. "We have found marijuana within a half-mile of public beaches and very short distances from campgrounds and highways," he says. "It's a shame."


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Washington man busted for having too much pot

BREMERTON, Wash. -- A Bremerton man is facing prison time and the loss of his home for growing too much marijuana. He smokes pot for medical reasons, but the prosecutor says he was intending to give away his extra marijuana.

The problem is, the state hasn't defined how much, is too much.

Robert Dalton can smoke and grow marijuana legally. He suffers from chronic back pain and has a medical marijuana prescription for it -- a law approved by voters 10 years ago.

"I have all the medical authorizations I need," he says.

But now, the 61-year-old is on trial for allegedly growing too much, with intent to give the overflow to others. That's illegal.

"The defendant indicated that he was supplying two ladies with marijuana," said Deputy Kitsap County Prosecutor Coreen Schnefs. Dalton denies he was going to distribute the plants to anyone else.

Police spotted Dalton's plants from the air. When approached, Dalton gave police a tour of his plants and took pictures. They later showed up with a search warrant, uprooting his 22 mature pot plants and dozens of immature plants, claiming they were more than the legal limit of a 60-day supply.

The problem is, the state has yet to define how much is a 60 day supply.

"Attempts to define it are difficult, you are dealing with growing plants," said Douglas Hiatt, Dalton's attorney. "You never know what the heck is going to happen, just like when people plant a bunch of tomatoes, you know, they don't know how many tomatoes they are going to get."

The state health department is working on defining a 60 day limit -- something all sides are waiting for. The proposal calls for 24 ounces - or 6 mature plants. Dalton had 22 mature plants.

They hope to have the ruling as soon as next month.

In the meantime, Dalton says he's being prosecuted simply because, "Kitsap County has a very strong hand and they are very anti medical marijuana over here."

The Kitsap County prosecutor says this is not a case about the 60 day limit, but about a man who grew marijuana legally, with the intent to give it away. By giving it to someone else, it's a crime.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The smoking ban in city parks could be lifted for the second time
since it passed three years ago, as city leaders are considering
allowing medical marijuana patients to light up during a festival at
San Lorenzo Park at the end of the month.

"It's not like a recreational marijuana event," said Councilman Mike
Rotkin, who supports the temporary lifting of the city's 3-year-old
ordinance that bans smoking in parks.

"It's not a smoke-in, it's not like the 4/20 thing up on campus," Rotkin said.

That April 20 event attracts thousands of people to Porter Meadow at
UC Santa Cruz each spring to celebrate the so-called 4/20 cannabis
culture holiday.

Instead, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana would like the
ban lifted so its 200 members can self-medicate while they enjoy the
organization's annual festival. Wammfest, a medical marijuana, hemp
and music festival, is scheduled for Sept. 27.

"As patients, its really important to have access to the medicine in
the most indiscreet and reasonable fashion," said Valerie Corrall,
co-founder of WAMM.

The item will be considered on the City Council's consent agenda
today. The council unanimously approved a similar temporary
suspension of the smoking ban for last year's event.

A closed tent will be available at the festival for those who need to
administer their prescription drugs, and no pot will be for sale or
distributed, Advertisement Rotkin said.

However, Sentinel reports from last year's festival showed that many
participants did get stoned on the lawn, and some drove in from out
of town for what they considered a recreational event by the river.

Councilwoman Lynn Robinson said she supports WAMM and supports the
event. However, "I'd be interested in seeing other options that don't
require an exemption" from the city, Robinson said.

Police Capt. Steve Clark said officers follow the orders of city
government when it comes to marijuana, which is considered illegal
for all purposes by the federal government.

"If this is a decision that council wants to take on, the police
department is going to follow that direction," Clark said. "Our role
is not to involve ourselves in the political equation, but simply to
ensure the safety of the community is well cared for."

Santa Cruz police reported no problems with last year's festival. But
after Measure K was passed with 60 percent of the vote in 2006, Santa
Cruz police are forced to make adult marijuana-related crimes on
private property a low priority.

WAMM is a cooperative started in 1993 for seriously ill medical
marijuana patients to grow and share the plant. The cooperative has
about 200 members.

The smoking ban was created in 2006 to protect public health and
safety at San Lorenzo and Grant Street parks.

However, smoking has been a regular part of the WAMM Festival, an
annual event for 14 years that raises money and awareness for medical
marijuana issues and celebrates the community's support for the
cooperative started by Santa Cruz residents Corrall and her husband,
Mike Corrall.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Second thoughts and a new pot trial?

Posted on Mon, Sep. 08, 2008

last updated: September 07, 2008 11:41:36 PM

PHOTO: http://media.modbee.com/smedia/2008/03/04/18/745-LIVE_p0305_05b1pot.embedded.prod_affiliate.11.jpg
From left, Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes, here with attorney Robert Foorkner, are standing trial. Bart Ah You/The Bee - Modesto Bee - Bart Ah You

Buyer's remorse from two of 12 jurors is not enough to toss out guilty verdicts that could send two men who ran a Modesto-based medical marijuana dispensary to prison for decades or even life.

So attorneys who want to win a new trial for Ricardo Ruiz Montes and Luke Scarmazzo are taking a different approach, arguing that jurors were unduly influenced by a San Francisco Chronicle story about pot clubs that was published during their deliberations.

The lawyers are backed by Juror No. 3, Craig Will of Twain Harte, and Juror No. 5, Larry Silva of Tollhouse, east of Fresno. They said they would not have convicted Montes and Scarmazzo of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise had they realized the felony carries a mandatory prison sentence of 20 years to life.

In a declaration filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, Will said he intended to find the men not guilty until he read a summary of a news story that said future administrations likely would not prosecute dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana for medical uses.

"I then decided to find the defendants guilty, since it appeared as though this wasn't a serious crime," Will told the court.

In a companion declaration, Silva said Will's mention of the news story prompted him to change his vote as well.

"I did not think that this was a serious case and decided to find the defendants guilty, even though I had doubts about both defendants' guilt in this matter," Silva told the court.

The affidavits form the crux of a motion for a new trial that will be heard Sept. 15, when Judge Oliver W. Wanger is scheduled to sentence Montes and Scarmazzo.

On May 15, Will, Silva and 10 others said Montes and Scarmazzo are guilty of manufacturing and possessing marijuana, as well as operating a continuing criminal enterprise. Jurors cleared both men of weapons charges and deadlocked on a conspiracy charge that later was dismissed.

Five days later, Will and Silva were the first two people to sign an online petition contesting the mandatory minimum sentence the men face.

Jessica Santos of Modesto, who is collecting signatures at gopetition.com, said Montes and Scarmazzo may have flaunted profits from a dispensary that generated $9 million even as city officials pledged to shut it down, but don't deserve decades of prison for running a business they thought was legal.

"Why do we even waste time, money and resources voting if, ultimately, it never matters in the end," said Santos, who described herself as a friend of Scarmazzo's wife. "Luke is going to serve time in prison until he's 55, for running a business that was legal in our state."

Defendants: We followed the law

Montes, 27, and Scarmazzo, 28, testified on their own behalf during their trial this spring, saying the California Healthcare Collective, formerly on McHenry Avenue, complied with state laws, paid taxes, verified doctor's recommendations before every sale and had a business license from the city.

They were undercut by plainclothes drug agents who bought marijuana at the dispensary, which was open from December 2004 to June 2006. Agents found more than 1,100 marijuana plants, 13 guns, 60 pounds of processed marijuana and $140,000 in cash in homes associated with the defendants.

Jurors saw a video featuring would-be rap artist Scarmazzo flashing wads of cash and shaking his fist at a mock-up of the City Council, which failed to shutter the business even after two votes aimed at banning medical marijuana dispensaries.

Once the verdicts were in, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott called a news conference in Modesto, where he was flanked by Police Chief Roy Wasden and Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

The federal prosecutor called Montes and Scarmazzo the "poster children" for problems with California's Compassionate Use law.

Since then, the state attorney general's office has issued guidelines for law enforcement regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and their clients, saying cooperatives and collectives must incorporate, operate as nonprofit organizations and equitably distribute earnings among their members.

Before those guidelines, the terrain was murky, letting the California Healthcare Collective incorporate as a nonprofit even though Montes and Scarmazzo paid themselves $13,000 a month, purchased jet skis with profits from marijuana sales and tooled around town in a $180,000 Mercedes-Benz.

The legality of medical marijuana is a hot topic because state and federal law contradict each other.

A 1996 state initiative said qualified patients and primary caregivers may cultivate and possess small amounts of marijuana for medicinal use. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said medical marijuana laws in California and 12 other states do not shield people from federal prosecution.

The Bush administration ramped up prosecutions after the high court ruling, with drug enforcement agents raiding 90 dispensaries across the state and prosecutors filing criminal charges in about half of those cases, according to Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based advocacy group.

The beginning of a trend?

The Modesto dispensary was the first to go to trial in federal court and the first case in which dispensary operators were charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, according to attorney Anthony Capozzi of Fresno, who represents Scarmazzo.

Prosecutors subsequently brought the continuing criminal enterprise charge in a dispensary case in Bakersfield, so the stiff charge could be the beginning of a trend. But observers think the next administration may back away from the policy of raids and federal prosecution.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has said he would let states make their own rules. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has backed raids, but also promised that seriously ill patients would never face arrest for using marijuana -- according to the news story Will and Silva mention in their affidavits.

"Those who are interested in medicinal marijuana are watching this case very closely," said Capozzi, who argues that the trial is the result of a vindictive prosecution.

Jurors are expected to weigh guilt and innocence, not the possible penalties their verdicts will bring, so the discomfort Will and Silva felt when they learned that their verdicts would bring a mandatory 20-year sentence is irrelevant in the legal arena.

But the notion that a news story -- or any outside source -- could have influenced the outcome may be enough to set aside the verdicts and retry the case with a new jury. As a prosecutor noted in legal papers, jurors were frequently admonished not to read news stories about the case.

Juror conduct at issue

Attorney Robert Forkner of Modesto, who represents Montes, said he will ask the judge to hold a hearing with Will and Silva, and any other juror the court may want to summon, to determine whether the deliberations were fair.

"If there's juror misconduct, the judge has to give us a new trial," he said.

Meanwhile, six former co- defendants who accepted plea deals and testified against Montes and Scarmazzo got sentences that ranged from probation to one year in prison. Some worked at the dispensary and operated extensive cultivation operations in homes and others bought large amounts of marijuana from the dispensary.

Before the trial, Montes and Scarmazzo told The Bee that they preferred to take their chances with a jury rather than accept a 10-year plea deal prosecutors offered. Verdicts in hand, the U.S. attorney's office is recommending 25 years to life for Montes and 30 years to life for Scarmazzo.

Given another chance, the defendants would make a deal.

"If we get a new trial," Forkner said, "we're going to settle this case."

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.


Story Sidebar: About the defendants

last updated: September 07, 2008 11:41:36 PM

Federal drug enforcement agents made a big splash in September 2006 when they raided the California Healthcare Collective on McHenry Avenue in Modesto and arrested its managers, as well as six other people who were associated with the business.

Two defendants went to trial in the spring and are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15. The rest accepted plea deals offered by the U.S. attorney's office in Fresno.

Here's a roundup of the defendants:

Luke Scarmazzo, 28, Modesto

Chief financial officer

Charged with 10 felonies, found guilty of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing marijuana and possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute

Faces 30 years to life in prison

Ricardo Ruiz Montes, 27, Modesto

Chief executive officer

Charged with 11 felonies, found guilty of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing marijuana and three counts of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute

Faces 25 years to life in prison

Monica Valencia, 27, Modesto

Worked at the collective

Charged with three felonies, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana

Sentenced to one year in prison

Antonio Malagon, 31, Modesto

Manager at the collective

Charged with eight felonies, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana

Sentenced to six months in prison

Jose Malagon, 35, Modesto

Manager at the collective

Charged with five felonies, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana

Sentenced to three months in prison

Brad Heinmiller, 34, Merced

Stopped after he left the collective with 1 pound of marijuana

Charged with two felonies, pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute marijuana

Sentenced to 100 hours of community service

Bradley J. Wickliffe, 30, Discovery Bay

Stopped after he left the collective with 4 pounds of marijuana

Charged with two felonies, pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute marijuana

Sentenced to 100 hours of community service

Lucky Jamal Boisierre, 28, Modesto

Associate of the collective who had 1,100 marijuana plants in his home

Charged with five felonies, pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute marijuana

Sentenced to three years' probation



Ore. marijuana center closes over squabble

02:06 PM PDT on Sunday, September 7, 2008

Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. - The medical marijuana group Compassion Center is trying to regroup after an internal power struggle that peaked when one board member removed patients' medical files, sued to dissolve the organization and tried to start her own rival group.

The center, founded in 2001, closed in July, leaving about 2,000 area marijuana cardholders with no place to turn for advice and support.

As part of a court-approved settlement, the two battling board members agreed to resign. Four newly appointed members will pick a fifth.

The center should reopen soon, said Casey Ferguson, a former board member who was reappointed.

The center offered classes and support for people seeking a marijuana card from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program as well as for cardholders.

At clinics, a doctor would examine applicants. Volunteers offered tips on growing marijuana, finding a doctor willing to sign an application, and helped connect cardholders with people who could legally grow marijuana for them.

Oregon permits cardholders to use or grow marijuana for medical purposes.

A doctor must attest that the patient has at least one of nine qualifying medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma or HIV/AIDS.

While 13 states have such a law although the drug remains illegal under federal law.

The dispute in Eugene involved board members Brenda Alley and Mike Sage. In June, they were the only two members left. State law requires nonprofit groups to have at least three board members or cease operations.

In June, Alley contacted the state Department of Justice and expressed concern that up to $300,000 of the center's funds were missing, according to an Aug. 5 letter from Elizabeth Grant, the attorney in charge of the DOJ's Charitable Activities Section, to attorneys for Sage and Alley.

An earlier audit and a review of five years of financial reports indicated the group had little beyond that needed for routine operation, Grant wrote.

In 2007, the group reported it had $25,247 in cash, income of $161,037 and expenses of $147,968.

"We do not understand the factual basis for Ms. Alley's assertions that $300,000 in charitable assets is missing or unaccounted for," Grant wrote.

Court documents filed by Sage say Alley entered the offices in July, removing patient medical files and forcing the closure.

Ferguson said the records have been recovered.

Alley told the Eugene Register-Guard that she removed the files on instructions from her attorney and the state Department of Justice, held them only briefly and that the other board member had access to them.

She said she had volunteered at the center for seven years. "I was trying to keep the organization as straight and honest and as pristinely clean as possible," she said.

On Aug. 18, Alley filed papers with the Secretary of State's office to establish a new nonprofit corporation called Green Cross of Oregon.

Some similar groups in other regions have used that name. Alley declined to discuss why she incorporated a new organization.

Sage said she tried to engineer "a hostile takeover" and was "trying to take over the center, and do things her way, and trying to fire the crew" of volunteers. "I wouldn't let her."

Jaqui Lomont, center manager for four years until resigning in May, said there were rumblings of trouble on the board when she left.

The turmoil is heartbreaking, she said, "because we know there's a lot of patients who need our services."


Mass. DAs kick in money to fight pro-pot question

September 7, 2008

BOSTON—The state's eleven district attorneys have each kicked in more than $2,000 to fight a ballot question that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The $27,670 raised for the newly formed Coalition to Save Our Streets is dwarfed by the $648,473 raised by the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which backs the question.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone has criticized the question, which he said sends the wrong message to children.

Supporters say the marijuana laws are antiquated.

If the measure, which would make having an ounce or less of the drug a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine, is approved, Massachusetts would become the 13th state to lift or ease criminal penalties on marijuana possession.


Medical marijuana loophole could let patients extend doctor recommendation

By ASHLEY MACKIN, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Sep 6 2008, 11:13 PM · Updated: Sep 6 2008, 11:18 PM

A loophole in the first-ever medicinal marijuana guidelines issued by California Attorney General Jerry Brown last month opens the door for patients using medicinal marijuana to extend their doctor's recommendation without the doctor knowing it.

A physician's recommendation will grant a patient access to medicinal marijuana, as will a state-issued card. However, the guidelines do not specify that the two must be issued at the same time.

This could pose a problem for medical marijuana dispensaries trying to act in accordance with the guidelines and the law.

"The way I see it, someone could get a doctor's recommendation for 12 months in January, and get the card for 12 months that December," said Mariellen Jurkovich, director of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center. "The card should be issued along with the recommendation, and it's a quirk in the system."

Jurkovich added that she was reluctant to accept state cards, knowing they could be valid after the physician's recommendation expires. "If the card is valid one day after the recommendation expires, then I'm acting outside the law, and I don't want to do that."

In order to obtain a state-issued card, a person must have their physician make a recommendation (which by itself is enough proof at a dispensary) and then take that recommendation to the county department of health. From there, the county has 30 days to verify the information about the patient with the physician. That information goes to the state Health Department, which then issues the card and sends it to the county department.

With a recommendation, a patient may go to a medical marijuana dispensary or cooperative to receive medicinal marijuana.

The physician decides how long the recommendation will last, which dictates the amount of a time a person may purchase medicinal marijuana.

To avoid arrest or legal ramifications from possessing medicinal marijuana, Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services recommends patients using medicinal marijuana carry a state-issued card as proof.

The card is valid for one year from the date it's issued, according to Proposition 420, and shows a doctor's recommendation was given. This applies to law enforcement and at dispensaries. However, a patient does not have to apply for the card when they get their doctor's recommendation.

This has raised concerns for people like Jurkovich, who said she does not want to give someone the medicinal marijuana unless they have a legitimate doctor's recommendation, and because of this system, she said she feels the card does not necessarily prove that.

The Attorney General's Office, which issued these guidelines, acknowledged that it is possible to apply for the card any time in the window of a doctor's recommendation, "but we don't recommend that," said Christine Gasparac, of the Attorney General's Office.

She said if a staff member saw that, they would follow up to make sure the person gets their physician to extend the recommendation.

Lea Brooks, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said no one has control over whether someone applies for the card in a timely manner.

While acknowledging that there is probably a good reason why the guidelines are the way they are, Jurkovich said she has some suggestions on how to improve the system.

She suggested developing a system in which doctors could issue the cards directly, with a unified system or seal to put on the card, so it would coincide with the time of the recommendation.

Her other suggestion is to make sure that the card matches the length of the prescription, however long it is. If someone decides to get the card after they get the prescription, the state health department could prorate the cost to accommodate the number of months.

"(The state card and doctor's recommendation) not matching is the only part I'm not comfortable with," Jurkovich said about the guidelines in general. "I would just really like for the state card to go along with the recommendation."

(Ashley Mackin can be reached at amackin@eurekareporter.com or 707-269-7436.)

In order to qualify for medicinal marijuana, a patient must have a "serious medical condition." According to the California Health and Safety Code, the following are serious medical conditions:

+ Anorexia
+ Arthritis
+ Cachexia
+ Cancer
+ Chronic pain
+ Glaucoma
+ Migraines
+ Persistent muscle spasms, such as those associated with seizures
+ Severe nausea
+ Any other condition that limits a person's ability to conduct major activities


Woman forced to go underground to find medical marijuana

Sue Vorenberg | The New Mexican

9/6/2008 - 9/7/08

Relaxing in her backyard, surrounded by friends, the 63-year-old woman who, by all accounts, shouldn't still be alive, lit up her pipe of marijuana, inhaled and then smiled at everyone.

Last fall, the woman, an AIDS sufferer called "Lisa" in this story because she fears problems with the federal government, had dropped to 75 pounds and was nearing kidney failure. And nobody, including her, thought she'd make it through the winter, she said.

"When I don't have marijuana, the nausea becomes completely unbearable," Lisa said. "I can't take a chance on that. If I vomit, because of my condition, it leads to very serious health problems."

Her health last fall had gone downhill because she couldn't get a decent supply of the drug the state has legally permitted her to take to reduce pain, keep food down and help her sleep, she said.

Complications and medications Lisa has to take for AIDS have eaten away about half of her jaw, leave her in constant pain and make her nauseous. And the only thing that helps is marijuana — specifically the canniboids in marijuana and not tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, she said.

But now, with the help of a local medical marijuana supplier who is providing her with the drug illegally, Lisa is back to 95 pounds, feels better than she has in the past year and is ready to fight for other New Mexicans who need help, she said. "The government has no right to stop medical marijuana," Lisa said. "There are cancer patients that need this desperately, all sorts of people suffering, and they can't have it right now."

Lisa, who before her illness was a nurse, is one of 182 patients, including 42 in Santa Fe, with state certification to inhale or eat the drug as part of New Mexico's medical cannabis program, which started July 1, 2007.

But while the number of enrolled patients has grown significantly in the past year, the state still has not approved any growers or distributors for medical cannabis, which has left patients basically on their own to find a supply.

And that's what almost killed her, Lisa said.

When Lisa's friend from Washington, who used to provide her with medical-grade marijuana, died last summer, she was left with the unpleasant options of trying to grow her own with her notorious brown thumb or going underground to try to find marijuana of unknown quality from a drug dealer.

And without a reliable source for her medication, Lisa's health and her weight started to rapidly go downhill. "It's been hell," Lisa said.

Just when things were at their worst, though, Lisa found "Ted," a New Mexico grower who also doesn't want his real name used because he fears problems with the state and federal government.

And with Ted's help, Lisa has a new source of medical marijuana that is high quality and reliable. "If it weren't for (Ted) and his work, I would not be alive," Lisa said. "If he had obeyed the laws, I would be dead."

Ted has been working to get approval from the state to be an official producer of medical marijuana. But every time he works through one set of obstacles, more regulations appear causing more setbacks, he said.

"They're dragging their feet," Ted said. "The state wants to have no federal ramifications from setting up a system, but they just can't do that right now."

So far, the state hasn't approved any producers, said Deborah Busemeyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. "There is no distribution system," she said.

The department, which is mandated by state law to set up a system, is in a difficult position because any method will violate federal drug laws.

But efforts are moving forward, and officials are taking public comment on possible solutions anyway, she said.

The next meeting to discuss some of those options is Monday, when the department will take comments and review rules on how patients register for identification cards and how growers will be licensed, Busemeyer said.

"We've been working really hard to make sure we have strong rules that are viable for our patients," she said.

But as that effort continues, patients who have state approval to use the drug are suffering without a supply. So Ted works with them, underground. He's helping eight of them around the state so far, he said. "It's going to be a long time to get this up and running, and these people need help," Ted said.

Under the temporary provisions that the medical cannabis program operates by, patients can grow four mature plants and 12 seedlings at any given time. And they can have up to 6 ounces of marijuana in their possession, Busemeyer said.

But new proposed rules would force patients to apply for a separate license to grow marijuana, even after they're medically approved.

Distributors, as well, would face a long series of hurdles to be approved. They must set up a nonprofit that can grow no more than 95 plants and seedlings. They must create a series of educational products to tell patients how to use their product safely. They must provide proof of security and a distribution method as well as create a board that includes a doctor or nurse and medical marijuana patients. And that's only part of the criteria, Busemeyer said.

"The law required us to set this up, but it doesn't really tell us how to do that," Busemeyer said. "I think these ideas speak to some of the concerns about who's growing and who's allowed to grow."

Attorney General Gary King said some of the new licensing ideas might be more strict, but they also get the state generally off the hook with the feds by putting the legal burden on the users and sellers.

"We actually opposed this legislation, but the Legislature passed it," King said of the medical cannabis program. "Our opposition was (based on concern) that it could run afoul of federal law."

The original plan would have made the state the grower and producer, but the Health Department's newer plan to license patients and growers seems to get around that, said King's Chief Deputy Al Lama.

"From my understanding of the way they've structured this in terms of how much is produced and how it's licensed — there's always a risk, but I think there are, in the draft regulations, some safeguards that I believe would reduce some of the problems we've seen in other states."

And no matter if a person has a license here, it does not make them immune to federal law, King emphasized.

"I think that anybody who participates in the program should be aware of the risk," King said. "The feds are going to be more aggressive about prosecuting things like this. They've told me that."

But for Lisa, the risk of prosecution is of little concern when compared to her quality of life, she said.

In her case, the drug doesn't get her high, although she admits in her youth she used to use it recreationally.

"It doesn't do much to me that way, other than helping with pain and helping me with nausea," Lisa said with a laugh. "Any patients like me, you're talking about somebody on umpteen other pain relievers and drugs. They're already on so many things, any of those recreational effects are lost in the noise."

But for her part, Lisa also tried a type of synthetic THC legally produced by drug companies to ease her symptoms. It did almost nothing except make her contemplate suicide, she said.

Something about the interaction of the chemicals within the marijuana makes it helpful, and it works better than any other medication she's tried, she said.

And Ted, who has an encyclopedic and scientific knowledge of the plant and the drug, said it doesn't surprise him that synthetic chemicals aren't very effective. "It's an interlacing of chemicals," Ted said. "It's not just one thing."

Looking at his selection of plants, grown in an undisclosed location, Ted works with 15 marijuana strains, trying to improve them for patients like Lisa through agricultural science. Each one of his strains has different properties, he said. And he grows them in organic conditions with a parental-like love.

"The plants are different colors," Ted said, noting that lighter-colored marijuana seems to be better for mental healing, glaucoma and daytime use, and darker-colored types are better as sleep aids. "They all have different flavors, effects and nuances."

To make the plants even more healthy, he sometimes sings reggae to them, he added with a laugh.

"We take extra steps with cleanliness, ensuring organic products," Ted said. "We concentrate on plants that perhaps don't produce the highest quantity of product, but they have the most beneficial effects for patients."

Eventually, Ted and Lisa hope to create a sort of underground cooperative for the state's medical marijuana patients — at least until a real distribution system is created — so others like Lisa don't have to suffer the stress of finding a distributor, they said.

In California, that sort of system exists generally above ground, so once patients become eligible, they can go to a "buyers club" to get a supply, Ted said.

But those clubs have been prosecuted recently by federal agents, King said.

Another problem in New Mexico with licensing producers is that the names of those producers will be public record, unless the Legislature takes some steps to protect them, he said. "They did that with the concealed carry act," King said. "But there hasn't been much if any discussion yet of doing that with medical marijuana."

California, though, does remain at the foreground of the fight. The state lets patients with a much larger array of diseases use medical marijuana, including people with migraines, arthritis and post traumatic stress disorder, Ted said.

New Mexico only approves patients with a handful of conditions, which are: cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and spinal cord injuries with intractable spasticity, Busemeyer said.

Still, that list can be expanded if patients or doctors send petitions to the program's medical advisory committee, she said. "We've gotten a few petitions to expand that," Busemeyer said.

Some of those include chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, arthritis, anxiety and hepatitis C, although no rulings have yet been made.

For King's part, he declined to comment on whether he personally supports the idea of medical marijuana or the spectrum of its possible uses. But he said he would like the federal government to take a closer look at how it's classified. "Clearly there are drugs that have a lot more activity than marijuana that a doctor can prescribe," King said. "And I'm not sure marijuana belongs where it's classified now, which is in the same group with heroin."

No matter what the state or federal government decide to say or do, though, Lisa will continue to use the drug she says is keeping her alive.

If that's taken away from her, she doesn't want to go on, she said. "I'd just quit. I'd go off my other medications, and I'd probably be dead in less than a month," she said, then paused.

"But I won't die — I'm too stubborn. I won't give them the satisfaction," she added with a cocky grin.

Contact Sue Vorenberg at svorenberg@sfnewmexican.com.

If you go

What: Public hearing on the state's Medical Cannabis Program

When: 9 a.m., Monday

Where: Harold Runnels Building Auditorium, 1190 St. Francis Drive

For information: Visit nmhealth.org/marijuana.html


Friday, September 5, 2008

Marijuana help center will try to reopen

By Tim Christie
The Register-Guard

Published: September 5, 2008 12:00AM

The Compassion Center, a medical marijuana help group in Eugene, is trying to regroup and reopen after a power struggle on its board of directors that culminated when one board member removed patients' medical files from the office, sued to dissolve the organization and tried to start her own rival medical marijuana support group.

The center, founded in 2001, has been closed since July 22, leaving about 2,000 marijuana cardholders in the metro area without a place to turn for advice and support in dealing with Oregon's medical marijuana law.

"Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are closed until further notice," reads a hand-written note, taped to the door of the office at 2055 W. 12th Ave. "We are so sorry. The management."

As part of a settlement agreement approved by a Lane County Circuit Court judge, the two battling board members agreed to resign, and four new board members have been appointed and charged with appointing a fifth board member. The organization will pay the board members' attorney fees.

The center should reopen soon, said Casey Ferguson, a former board member who was just reappointed, but he could offer no timetable.

"We're restructuring and we are very hopeful the center will be open for business very shortly," said Ferguson, a medical student who recently moved from Eugene to Portland.

Once the fifth board member is appointed, then corporation officers need to be selected. Then the board needs to work with accountants to get finances in order and bring back staff so the center can reopen, he said.

Originally called the Eugene Cannabis Grow-Op, the Compassion Center. It offered classes, support and networking for people interested in obtaining a marijuana card from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, as well as people who already held one. It also hosted clinics with a doctor who would examine patients seeking a medical marijuana card. Volunteers offered tips on growing marijuana, finding a doctor willing to sign a medical marijuana application, and helped connect cardholders with people who could legally grow marijuana for them, known as "caregivers."

A state-issued medical marijuana card permits people to possess, consume and grow marijuana, provided it is for medical purposes. A doctor must attest that the patient has at least one of nine qualifying medical conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, nausea and severe pain. While 13 states have passed medical marijuana laws, the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Anthony Johnson, political director of Voter Power, a Portland medical marijuana advocacy group, said the closure of the Compassion Center "definitely puts patients in a bind and forces them to travel to Portland or other areas that do have support groups." He added: "It does create a void and a need for some kind of organization to help patients meet their needs."

The dispute in Eugene involved board members Brenda Alley and Mike Sage. In June, they were the only two members left on the center's board. State law requires non-profit groups to have at least three board members, and the group's own bylaws require five. If a group cannot maintain at least three board members, state law requires the group to cease operations and dissolve.

In June, Alley contacted the state Department of Justice and expressed concern that up to $300,000 of the center's funds were missing, according to an Aug. 5 letter from Elizabeth Grant, the attorney in charge of the DOJ's Charitable Activities Section, to attorneys for Sage and Alley.

However, an earlier audit of the Compassion Center, and a review of five years of financial reports, indicated the group did not have much in the way of charitable assets except those necessary for its routine operation, Grant wrote. For instance, in 2007, the group reported it had $25,247 in cash, income of $161,037 and expenses of $147,968.

"We do not understand the factual basis for Ms. Alley's assertions that $300,000 in charitable assets is missing or unaccounted for," Grant wrote.

According to court documents filed by Sage, Alley entered the offices of the Compassion Center sometime from July 18-21 and removed patient medical files, forcing the clinic to close.

Ferguson said the records have been recovered.

"It appears right now all documentation has been recovered," Ferguson said. "It is all secure."

In an interview, Alley, a Eugene resident, confirmed said she removed the files from the office. She did so, she said, on instructions from her attorney and the state Department of Justice.

She said she secured the files only "for a short period of time," and that the other board member had access to the records.

Alley said she volunteered at the center for seven years.

"I was trying to keep the organization as straight and honest and as pristinely clean as possible," she said.

On Aug. 18, Alley filed papers with the Secretary of State's office to establish a new non-profit corporation called Green Cross of Oregon.

Some medical marijuana support organizations in other regions have used the name "Green Cross."

Alley declined to discuss why she incorporated a new organization.

Sage, in an interview, said Alley tried to engineer "a hostile takeover" of the organization.

"She was trying to take over the center, and do things her way, and trying to fire the crew" of volunteer staff members who ran the clinic, he said. "I wouldn't let her."

A complaint was filed with the Eugene Police Department in connection with the removal of the medical records.

A police spokeswoman referred inquiries to the Lane County District Attorney's office. Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Gardner said it's unlikely charges will be filed in the case unless further evidence comes to light that indicates unlawful intent by Alley.

Ferguson said the removal of medical files from the Compassion Center office represents a serious breach of trust, and board members and staff will need to work hard to regain the trust of patients.

"The organization is strong enough to survive and we'll be able to get the doors open again soon," he said. "Our patients are our No. 1 concern."

Jaqui Lomont:, general manager of the Compassion Center for four years until resigning in May, said there were rumblings of trouble on the board when she left the organization.

The turmoil is "heartbreaking," she said, "because we know there's a lot of patients who need our services."

Copyright © 2008 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA