CA: Attorney general's medical marijuana guidelines change little

By LORA HINES, The Press-Enterprise

Guidelines recently issued by the state attorney general have had little effect on the Inland's regulation of medical marijuana.

Last month, Attorney General Jerry Brown said licensed state cooperatives or less formal collectives are legal under California law. Operators of for-profit storefront dispensaries may be arrested and prosecuted, he said. Brown's opinion is nonbinding.

He issued the guidelines as the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors decided it would continue efforts to overturn the state's 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act, also known as Prop. 215. The state has issued a little more than 23,500 medical marijuana cards since 2004, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office says the guidelines clarify legal selling of marijuana.

Earlier this summer, the state's 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego rejected claims by San Diego and San Bernardino counties that federal statutes outlawing marijuana pre-empt state law. The court also rejected San Bernardino County's argument that issuing medical marijuana identification cards violated the state's constitution.

San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said Brown's opinion probably would not affect the county's decision to appeal.

"We're asking for clarification on the law," he said. "We're doing this on behalf of the sheriff's department. The county is prepared to abide by any law on the books. The Board of Supervisors has never taken a stance on medical marijuana or even on the cards."

San Bernardino County has not issued any medical marijuana cards.

Riverside County is one of 41 across the state to issue identification cards after patients show proof of residency and a doctor's recommendation. It issued about 300 cards a year, which require annual renewal. The cards cost $153, which funds the medical marijuana program. An ounce of marijuana at a dispensary can cost up to $400.

Despite medical marijuana card availability, Riverside County and almost every city in it has banned marijuana dispensaries. Advocates say there are at least two medical marijuana outlets in Palm Springs.

A Riverside dispensary was raided and closed last week, said Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse and longtime cannabis proponent. Riverside police would not discuss it.

Michael Jeandron, spokesman for Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco, said Pacheco has seen Brown's guidelines and is reviewing them. But marijuana dispensaries are illegal in California, Jeandron said.

Medical marijuana opponents say they think Brown's opinion indicates support for drug legalization. The Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition, a Rancho Cucamonga organization that includes parents and law enforcement, recently sent Brown a letter, asking him to back San Bernardino County's court battle. The group also wants Brown to support communities' right to ban marijuana dispensaries.

"It appears he is siding with the drug legalization groups," said coalition spokesman Roger Anderson. "What we want is for Brown to back off from his guidelines to law enforcement. They've made drug trafficking and drug dealing in California legal."

Brown's spokeswoman, Christine Gasparac, disagreed.

"The guidelines were written with input from law enforcement and patient advocates," she said. "Prop. 215 is the law in California. The guidelines really are meant to clarify how to use medical marijuana. We're not taking sides on this."

Swerdlow called Brown's guidelines workable, but he said he doesn't think Inland law enforcement officials will consider them. He said local officials repeatedly had ignored requests to discuss interpretation of the state's medical marijuana law before Brown issued his opinion.

Patients would like assurances that they won't be prosecuted if they grow enough plants to supply small groups, such as 36 plants for six people, Swerdlow said.

"Patients are afraid to grow with other patients," he said. "A lot of people are growing for themselves because they are afraid of arrest.

"Before we even worry about storefront dispensaries, we need to discuss growing," Swerdlow said.

Meanwhile, patients will grow for personal use, go to Los Angeles or Palm Springs or rely on delivery services to avoid prosecution, he said.

Reach Lora Hines at 951-368-9444 or