Pot bills are unclear

Guidelines for use create more confusion

A state bill designed to clarify medical marijuana guidelines has only perpetuated confusion in Humboldt County as community leaders try to reach a legislative compromise for compliance with the bill.

Proposition 420, signed by Governor Gray Davis in October, took effect this January and implemented limits of 8 ounces of dried marijuana and six mature or 12 immature plants per registered patient.

The bill also helped to establish an ID card system and more clearly defined the role of “caregivers,”—those people authorized to provide marijuana or care for registered patients under the 1996 Compassionate Use Act, or Proposition 215.

For the sick, as well as law enforcement and government agencies, the passage has helped to bring some closure to a debate seven years in the making.

“We have bigger fish to fry,” Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas said about compassionate use. “We need to worry about things like violent crime, health issues and the illegal marijuana cultivation.”

While the new bill has been lauded for its role in clarification of Proposition 215, a provision that continues to allow counties to establish higher—but not lower—marijuana limits has created a countywide stir.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos has set previous prosecution guidelines for Humboldt County to allow the possession of 3 pounds of dried marijuana and the cultivation of up to 99 plants, as long as space and artificial lighting restrictions are met. His controversial policy is under critical review once again as the new bill requires that communities who exceed the state’s recommendations codify their own into law on a county or city level, instead of relying on prosecution recommendations.

An ordinance was submitted to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Roger Rodoni at their meeting last Tuesday that would essentially set into law Gallegos’s restrictions. However, the agenda item was tabled in favor of the creation of a task force that would have 90 days to study the issue because of opposition from law enforcement and education officials, who voiced various concerns and supported the state’s guidelines.

Among those in opposition to higher limits were the Fortuna City Council and chief of police and the Humboldt County Board of Education and other area educators.

“If you look at other counties in California, you see that they have similar guidelines in place,” Gallegos said.

He said that his recommendations were based on a six joint- per-day ration, half of what was recommended by the federal government in a report he cited for his initial prosecution guidelines.

Members of the County Board of Education were particularly concerned with potential conflicts with federal law, most notably compliance with the Drug Free School Zone and Workplace regulations.

“The board took a position to adopt state recommendations over fear that there could be large amounts possessed within a Drug Free School Zone, attracting criminal activity,” said County Office of Education Spokesperson Janet Frost.

“We are also required to certify that we have a drug-free workplace. The proposed guidelines were practice, but this involves adopting practice into law.”

Gallegos said he believes that federal school regulatory concerns have been addressed, and he cited other areas of the state as examples of where higher limits have been made into law.

“Del Norte County has a similar county ordinance and it has not affected federal funding,” he said about this particular concern. “People who do not like the law try to nullify the application of it for citizens who need it.”

There is much opposition to the guidelines outside the contrast with federal law.

The official district attorney Web site includes a document called “Humboldt County District Attorney’s Marijuana Guidelines, Fact or Fiction?” that attempts to dispel what Gallegos perceives to be myths about his regulations.

It addresses issues like whether the guidelines promote illegal marijuana cultivation or use among those without a prescription, reminding that any use of marijuana is still in contrast with federal regulations and that the debate will assuredly continue beyond Proposition 420.

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