Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Medical Marijuana Growers Struggle With Legality

SAN FRANCISCO -- Since Proposition 215 was passed more than a decade ago, a
uniform understanding of how to legally grow marijuana in California has not
been sorted out, NBC11 reported.

Medical marijuana is an issue that has sparked debate since Proposition 215
was passed.

However, marijuana continues to be grown behind closed doors in
neighborhoods across northern California.

"It's a massive part of the economy. It's not going away, and it's time for
it to come out of the shadows and for people to start acknowledging it," a
grower told NBC11.

Growers said what they do is legal, creating a gray area, and that every
grower makes a choice about how legitimately they want to run their

In some situations taxes are being paid, with the hope of a legal garden, a
legal business, NBC11 reported.

NBC11 took a look into home-growing operations -- the semantics, the debate,
the dangers and legalities involved and how it can affect everyone.

The concern is not whether marijuana has medicinal uses but about public
safety, NBC11 reported.

NBC11 profiled a home-grow operation, one of many appearing in residential
neighborhoods all over the Bay Area and was given rare access to a
hydroponics operation.

The garden profiled produces between 75 and 100 pounds of marijuana per
year, an amount many in law enforcement say is illegal and far beyond what
the law allows.

It's considered a large home facility. The owner said he feels he is doing
his part to be legitimate, paying both state and federal taxes and following
state law. He said his most important job is to provide medicine to those
who are too scared to grow it themselves.

But even with everything he does, he said he still fears law enforcement,
both local and federal.

"The federal government -- you live in fear of the DEA kicking in your door,
taking you medicine, your computer files and all the cash you have on the
premises," the grower told NBC11.

In Sonoma County, the sheriff's department said it is doing everything it
can to respect the law, but that home-grow operations are increasing in size
and scale beyond what many could imagine.

Detective Sgt. Chris Bertoli of Sonoma County handles the narcotics unit.

"We are seeing a lot more grow operations involving medicinal marijuana, and
we are finding that there are a lot of people taking advantage of the
medical marijuana recommendations and using those to their advantage to
increase their grow operations," Bertoli said.

What Bertoli and the grower do agree on, is the violence associated with
home grow operations.

"Every grower -- whether you live in the sticks or in downtown Oakland,
Calif. -- wakes up every day with this ghost on their shoulder whispering,
'Today could be the day your door gets kicked in; two or three guys come in
with guns; you're duct-taped to a chair, and everything in your house gets
taken,'" the grower said.

"In the county of Sonoma and surrounding locations, we have seen an increase
in the acts of violent crimes," Bertoli said.

It could be happening closer than residents think.

"We are seeing an increase in the neighborhoods around the county of Sonoma,
and we believe its occurring all over the state," Bertoli said.

The grower interviewed by NBC11 said that there might be unreported violence
because of what the grower called police intimidation.

"What happens? Do you call the police? No, you don't call the police," the
grower said. "Why? Because you're afraid they're going to take all your
lights and all the rest of the medicine; and you're going to suffer further
humiliation and further discrimination from the people who should be
protecting you," the grower said.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said the answer is simple when it comes to
the growers themselves and their fears.

"I think they should get out of the business, because the business they are
in is a commercial enterprise," Russoniello said. "The business they are in
is not contemplated under Prop. 215."

Russoniello also said that from a federal standpoint, marijuana is still a
Schedule I controlled substance. To many, the answer seems to be even more
complicated than the problem itself.

Brett Stone
Legal Assistant
8888 Olympic Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Office- 323-655-5700
Fax- 818-509-9041

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POSTED: 10:35 pm PDT May 6, 2008
UPDATED: 10:56 pm PDT May 6, 2008

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