More MS news articles for July 2002

Bill would clarify marijuana-use law

Proposal establishes guidelines for medical necessity, police

July 1, 2002
By Richard Guzmán
The Desert Sun

Martin Victor says he suffers from cluster headaches that make his head feel like itís ready to burst. His wife, Lavonne, says she suffers from multiple sclerosis, which can cripple her movements.

The couple uses marijuana because they say no other medication as been as beneficial.

However, they and other medical-marijuana users have encountered problems with the law in spite of Proposition 215. Approved by California voters in 1996, Proposition 215 allows marijuana to be used for medical purposes but lacks uniform guidelines for enforcement.

The Victors hope Senate Bill 187 will allow them to use marijuana without fear of legal prosecution.

The bill, which aims to establish a statewide registry card and set guidelines for the amount of marijuana a patient can possess and grow, is currently on the Senate floor.

First introduced in February 2001, the bill has been approved by both houses. However, the details have been altered, requiring another Senate vote.

"(Proposition 215) didnít set a number. (Senate bill) 187 will mean I donít have to worry about police and the court system. All I have to do is grow what they allow me to grow and have what they allow me to have," Martin Victor said.

If the bill passes in the Senate it could be sent to Gov. Gray Davis sometime in August, said Sue North, chief of staff for the billís author, state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose.

North said Proposition 215 did not implement working guidelines, which has led to varied interpretations of the law by the different counties.

The bill will require the California Department of Health Services to determine the amount of marijuana a person can grow and possess.

Identification cards

It also establishes a voluntary program that will distribute identification cards to people who use medical marijuana under a doctorís recommendation.

"If a police officer stops someone and theyíre carrying marijuana, a card would help police validate the legitimacy of the use," North said.

"These registrations and guidelines would apply uniformly throughout the state," said Lanny Swerdlow, a member of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project of Palm Springs/Coachella Valley.

For example, Swerdlow said currently one police officer may enter a home were a patient is growing a certain number of marijuana plants and decide that it is an appropriate amount for medical use. But he said another officer could decide that same amount is not appropriate and arrest the person.

But not everyone supports the bill.

State Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta, and Assemblyman Dave Kelley, R-Idyllwild, have both voted against the bill.

The bill is also opposed by some counties that fear the costs associated with implementing new guidelines would be too expensive.

Some people involved in drug education see a possibility for abuse if the bill passes.

Black market cards

Wayne Koeppel, a Desert Hot Springs resident and chairman of the Drug Awareness Program for the Elks Association, said he fears people will grow more marijuana than they need for their personal consumption.

"I donít think it should be passed," he said.

Koeppel also fears that a market for counterfeit medical-marijuana identification cards could emerge.

"They do it with Social Security cards and driverís licenses," he said.

Richard Guzmán covers La Quinta for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at 775-4204

©2002 The Desert Sun