SANTA CRUZ – Medical marijuana advocates hope the state Supreme Court will set rules that protect and broaden the role of caregivers who grow and distribute marijuana for the sick. This week, justices agreed to look at whether primary caregivers should be protected from criminal charges under the 10-year-old state law that allows sick people to use marijuana.
“We hope the court agrees that a person can be a caregiver and clubs can also be a caregiver,” said Santa Cruz attorney Ben Rice, who’s defending a Felton man whose conviction for possession and selling is headed to the high court. “The big problem is many people can’t grow their own, and a caregiver is the logical way for medicine to be delivered”
The parameters of Proposition 215 are vague, often forcing marijuana advocates and law enforcement to clash over what’s legal and what’s not. Law enforcement officials have said many people claim to be caregivers when really they’re abusing the law for profit or personal use. The legal community is hoping that any clarifying the Supreme Court does tightens the laws and help prosecutors crack down on bogus caregivers.
“I’d like to see clarification. How do they define a caregiver? How do they define reasonable compensation?” county prosecutor Pamela Kato asked. “It’s an important issue, not just in this county but all over the state”
California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and allowing designated caregivers to provide the drug. However, Rice said, the caregiver role is narrowly defined in Proposition 215 as someone who provides housing, health, safety and medicine for a medical marijuana patient. “Merely providing marijuana is not protected,” he said.
The Supreme Court was prompted to look at the caregiver role after reviewing the case of Felton resident Roger Mentch, who was convicted in 2005 for cultivating marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. His conviction was overturned in October by the 6th District Court of Appeal, which determined his defense that he was a caregiver should have been heard by a jury.
Mentch runs the Hemporium LLC, a caregiving service and pot collective in Felton. He was arrested in 2003 after a bank teller reported his cash deposits consistently smelled of marijuana. Mentch, represented by Rice, said he grew marijuana for himself and five other people, all of whom were medical-marijuana patients. Rice argued Mentch’s business qualified him as a caregiver, and the appeal court agreed.
The issue before the Supreme Court is whether Mentch and other caregivers can argue that a primary caregiver who supplies marijuana to medical clients should not be prosecuted on drug cultivation and possession charges.
Mike Corral, co-founder of the Wo/Men’s Medical Marijuana cooperative, believes it’s important for medical-marijuana patients and caregivers to have equal rights under Proposition 215. “The vast majority of patients can’t grown their own, don’t know how to grow it or don’t have a place to do it, or they’re too sick to do it,” Corral said. “It’s important to reaffirm that caregivers have the right to possess and grow.”
The case will be the latest ruling from the state Supreme Court clarifying a major gray area of Proposition 215. Despite state law, federal law prohibits any use or distribution of marijuana.
– Contact Shanna McCord at [email protected]
– Article appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on February 9th, 2007