Friday, May 25, 2012

Medical Marijuana Users Don't Need to Be Marijuana Farmers, Court Says

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2012 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge But not much of a farmer
  • But not much of a farmer

It doesn't take much to join a collective or cooperative in California, be it a grocery store or a medical cannabis dispensary. In the former, perhaps all you need is a small fee; in the latter, a doctor's recommendation and the scrill required to purchase some medical bud.

It certainly doesn't require a shovel or a turn digging in the dirt, despite Attorney General Kamala Harris' best efforts to make the state's medical marijuana users get down and dirty.

The California Supreme Court this week denied Harris' appeal in People v. Colvin, in which the attorney general sought to uphold charges against a Hollywood-based dispensary operator. Harris had argued that every member of a collective -- the legal model under which medical marijuana dispensaries operate -- must "come together" in "some way" in order for the collective to enjoy legal protection.

The idea of forcing wheelchair-using AIDS and cancer patients to turn the dirt in order to enjoy their preferred medicine was a bit absurd, but it appeared Harris was serious about it. So both the seriously ill and healthy-looking young folk alike have the court to thank for keeping their hands clean (aside from the sticky, that is).

In this case, dispensary operator William Frank Colvin was driving a pound of marijuana from Hollywood Holistic Inc to a second dispensary he owned. He was denied a medical defense (and was prosecuted by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who Harris defeated in the 2010 AG race), and was convicted because, the trial court found, "transportation had nothing to do with the cultivation process."

On appeal, an appeals court in February overturned his conviction, allowed the state's medical marijuana laws to be entered as a defense, and questioned Harris' "vague" definition of a collective.

The court wrote:

The Attorney General does not specify how many members must participate

or in what way or ways they must do so, except to imply that Holistic,

with its 5,000 members and 14 growers, is simply too big to allow any

"meaningful" participation in the cooperative process; hence, it cannot

be a "cooperative" or a "collective" in the way section 11362.775

intended. But this interpretation of section 11362.775 would impose on

medical marijuana cooperatives requirements not imposed on other

cooperatives. A grocery cooperative, for example, may have members who

grow and sell the food and run a store out of which the cooperative's

products are sold. But not everyone who pays a fee to become a member

participates in the cooperative other than to shop at it.

Harris could not be reached for comment.

The California Supreme Court's decision not to hear Harris' appeal of the appeals court decision bodes well for other medical marijuana cases awaiting a high court ruling, according to Joe Elford, lead counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

"This landmark case also affirms the right of patients

to purchase extracted or concentrated forms of medical marijuana and

the right to transport medication from an off-site cultivate site," said Elford, whose organization will also argue on behalf of Jovan Jackson, a San Diego-area dispensary operator also denied a medical defense.

ASA also has a stake in Pack v. Long Beach, which could decide the future of storefront dispensing collectives. The Supreme Court agreed to review that case; a decision is pending in the next few months.

Thus far in office, Harris hasn't been much help -- or harm -- to medical marijuana patients, who campaigned heavily on her behalf in 2010. Harris has not done much to prosecute medical marijuana, but also deferred to the Legislature the responsibility to update now-Gov. Jerry Brown's 2008 Attorney General Guidelines, which are used by law enforcement as well as cities as the rulebook for medical cannabis in California.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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