By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
Medical marijuana users in Del Norte County can now relax knowing exactly what is expected of them from local law enforcement and the county Board of Supervisors.
Yesterday, the supervisors voted 3-1, with one supervisor absent, to back a new policy allowing users to grow 99 plants and keep one pound of the processed drug on hand.
Supervisors Jack Reese, Clyde Eller and Martha McClure voted yes while David Finigan voted an unprecedented "none of the above," choosing not to abstain or vote yes or no. Supervisor Chuck Blackburn was not in attendance.
"The goal was to find something that was workable and would help us deal with this poorly written (state) law," said Del Norte County District Attorney Bob Drossel.
Drossel was one of a seven-member committee that put the new policy together. Sheriff Jim Maready, Crescent City Police Chief Bob West, Department of Mental Health Director Mick Miller, and county counsel Bob Black were some other members of the committee.
The need for a new set of guidelines arose when local law enforcement officials, judges and the users themselves didn't agree on the old policy set by Del Norte's district attorney's office.
Six plants, three in the growth stage and three in the budding stage, and one ounce of processed drug were the allowances in the old policy.
Users said that wasn't enough for some chronically ill patients and, because a policy of enforcement was not clearly marked and agreed upon, courts weren't able to make charges stick.
Public complaints to Reese inspired him to form the seven-member committee and to ask his board to support the policy the committee drafted.
"Why would some fool politician take on such a hot potato? People were telling me the policy wasn't working and that they were being mistreated ... and evidently the courts were having trouble with it.
"The laws were vague and the state attorney general refuses to comment on it," Reese said to an audience of about 25 interested citizens waiting to hear if the board would support the new, more lenient guidelines yesterday.
Sheriff Maready and Drossel both warned that marijuana is still an illegal drug and every attempt will be made to prosecute violators of the law and that legal users with prescriptions will be punished for violating the new county policy.
Even with a prescription, no one is allowed to drive under the influence, illegally transport or sell marijuana.
Ex-sheriff's deputy and drug task force agent John Fay voiced concern about the number of plants allowed in the new policy and against marijuana use in general.
And front-lines narcotic enforcement officer A.C. Fields told the supervisors his job will likely get harder with a more lenient policy.
"There's no doubt it's a pickle you're in. I believe in medical marijuana, but not Prop. 215. It makes it hard with 99 plants and a pound for us to go in a house where we've done several controlled buys and can't make an arrest," Fields said.
Reese noted that though 99 plants are allowed, the growing area must be 10 feet by 10 feet.
"Anyone who grows anything knows you're not going to get much out of 99 plants in a 10-by-10-foot area," Reese said.
Drossel agreed with Reese's assessment.
"We rely on our experts that with that area, you would only be left with six good plants," he said.
The supervisors' opinions varied on the topic of legalizing medical marijuana and the new local policy.
Finigan commended Reese and the local law enforcement leaders for addressing the problem, but said he didn't feel it is an issue for the supervisors to decide.
"I don't think this is an appropriate forum. It's a medical issue, not an issue for politicians. It should be between a doctor and their patient as to amounts," Finigan said.
Supervisor McClure said all of the constituents that have called her were for the new policy and her own experience with friends and family who benefitted from medical marijuana drove her to support the new policy.
"It's high time we, as a nation, fess up to the fact that it brings relief," McClure said.
In response to those concerned about allowing 99 plants, she said she is willing to take the political heat for giving those in need of the drug all the leeway they need.
"It sends a clear message that we are not going to mess with these people that's why the numbers are high," she said.
Supervisor Eller said he leans to the conservative side regarding the legalization of medical marijuana, but briefly said he is in support of the new policy.
All seven of the committee members who drafted the policy will meet again in six months to decide if changes need to be made.