By Todd Wels
Triplicate staff writer
Donald Denham and his sister Lonnie Sexton each smoke an ounce of marijuana every week.
They dont do it to get high.
Sexton said she smokes marijuana on a daily basis to alleviate chronic pain caused by an auto accident she was involved in in 1985, as well as fibromyalgia and depression.
Denham said he smokes roughly the same amount to combat back spasms, high blood pressure and depression.
Both Denham and Sexton have permits under Proposition 215, Californias medicinal marijuana law. The permits were issued by Dr. Marion Mollie Fry, California Medical License #G057771, of San Francisco, on Jan. 6 of this year.
Thats why both Sexton and Denham were surprised when the Del Norte County Interagency Narcotics Task Force arrested them in August.
When they came to the door, I said sure, Denham said. I was hoping they could give me some tips.
Instead, the Drug Task Force arrested them, confiscating most of their marijuana, and charging them with possession of marijuana for sale, possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana and cultivating marijuana. They were released on their own recognizance three days later and are awaiting trial.
Denham and Sexton will be the first two defendants to be tried for violating Proposition 215 in Del Norte County.
The apparent difficulty comes from the fact that Denham and Sexton, who live together, were in possession of more than Del Norte Countys legal amount of medicinal marijuana.
Del Norte County allows certified medical marijuana users to cultivate up to six plants, and to keep one ounce of usable marijuana on hand.
Whose law? an incredulous Denham asked Thursday. Thats not what this proposition says.
When arrested, Denham and Sexton were found to be in possession of more than 100 plants.
How can the D.A. just arbitrarily say this is what you need and this is what you can do? Sexton asked, comparing the policy with the District Attorney going through your medicine cabinet.
Sgt. John Fay of the Drug Task Force sees it differently.
Proposition 215 is a confusing law, he said. There are a lot of open spaces.
Many of those open spaces have to do with the dosage allowed.
According to Fay, Mexican Brown marijuana, for instance, has a 4 percent count of the active ingredient, THC. Locally grown marijuana, on the other hand, can have a THC count of more than 27 percent.
Both Fay and District Attorney Robert J. Drossel agree some controls are necessary.
The two men collaborated with other law enforcement officials, including Sheriff James Maready, Crescent City Police Chief Robert West, members of the Del Norte County Probation Department and officers of the California Highway Patrol to create Del Norte Countys local standards.
It should take care of any chain-smokers needs for their illness, Drossel said.
He added that Del Norte Countys rules are in line with most conservative counties in the state, including Butte, El Dorado and Marin counties.
But why control how much a Proposition 215 user can grow?
Theres no reason to have 100 plants, Drossel said. No one person could use 100 plants still, no two persons either.
Both Drossel and Fay pointed out that one Proposition 215 user who violated the rules against selling if they were allowed to grow as many plants as they wanted could make profits in excess of $1 million with little effort.
They said Theyve got that many plants, they must be growing for sale, Sexton said.
No, and I think you can look us in the eye and tell that were telling you the truth, Sexton said, adding that she did not want to jeopardize her growing permit by being caught selling marijuana. She added that the Drug Task Force came to their home because a neighbor alleged that they were selling.
Denham and Sexton said they were in possession of more than 100 plants because Denham was experimenting with different cloning and fertilization techniques.
As Prop 215ers, we need to be able to experiment with different strains, Sexton said.
Denham added that most of the plants seized by the Drug Task Force were small juvenile plants, and that he expected many of them to die.
Little things grow up to be big things someday, and a person can be quite productive, Drossel said, dismissing Denhams argument.
Drossel refused to comment on specific details of the Denham-Sexton case, save to note that they will be tried jointly on Nov. 27.
Do either of them think they will be going to jail?
Id be really surprised, Sexton said, adding that she has receipts for most of the supplies and seeds that started their crop, which they bought at a legal medical marijuana buying establishment in Petaluma.
When they returned home, Denham and Sexton found they had been left with only six plants, which they say is not enough to medicate them.
Sexton said she would be forced, therefore, to travel south to legally purchase medicinal marijuana, or to resort to purchasing it illegally both of which represent a great deal more expense than growing her own.
It is an expense she is willing to pay.
Ill go without bacon and eggs before I go without my medicine, she said.
That comes in the midst of further economic difficulties for her and her brother.
Sexton is on permanent disability, and receives only that small amount of monthly income.
Denham has been employed as a substitute teacher for the Del Norte County Unified School District, but since his arrest he has received no calls for work, which has led him to seek other employment.
In addition, their small candle-making business has taken a financial hit, since the biggest displayer of their wares has since asked them to remove them.