Medical Marijuana Part 2: Task Force Makes a Compliance Check

Nov 7, 2008 7:00 PM

As the number of medical marijuana gardens grow, so too do the number of compliance checks law enforcement officials must make.

Two years ago in Butte County, they made 25 checks. This year, they've done more than 110.

But since resources are tight, officials tend to focus on the ones they suspect are not legitimate under Proposition 215.

"We try to determine which ones are more than likely using Proposition 215 as a guise to hide their commercial enterprise," said Butte County Sheriff's Marijuana Unit Sgt. Steve Collins.

In late October, which marks the end of the harvesting season, the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force secured search warrants for two homes in the Concow area they suspected were using Proposition 215 recommendations to house illegal marijuana operations.

"We suspected that there might be some recommendations here persuant to Prop 215 and indeed there were," said Commander Carl Sturdy.

They found a mother lode of marijuana at the home, including dozens of drying racks with 246 pounds of drying processed marijuana and 55 large plants.

Officials said it was one of the most sophisticated operations they've seen. The entire garage had been converted into a processing plant.

And it's quite a process. The plant clippings are placed in processing machines, which clip off the leaves, leaving just the bud, which are then placed on the drying racks.

The suspects did have several Proposition 215 recommendations, so the task force checked to see if they were valid.

"It's an involved process. It's not something that we just go in and say, okay, there's marijuana here, alright, you're going to jail. We have to do quite a few interviews," Sgt. Collins said.

During the course of the investigation, they found three loaded pistols, two commerical processing machines and a money counter. In the end, the task force believed it was enough evidence to prove the grow was not for medicinal purposes.

Two Concow residents were arrested on suspicion of a number of charges, including cultivation and possession of marijuana for sales.

"All the marijuana and the plants were seized," Sgt. Collins said.

But not all compliance checks end that way. If a patient has more plants than their recommendation allows, and if there is no evidence of an intent to sell, then the task force tends to remove only the plants that are over the recommended limit.

The biggest challenge to law enforcement is interpreting what that limit is since an assembly bill that had set specific guidelines was later deemed unconstitutional.

"It would help if there was definitive guidelines that were set forth by the legislature to tell law enforcement specifically, if a person has this much marijuana, they're in compliance, if they have over that, they're not," Commander Sturdy said.

But some patients say it's not a cut and dry issue.

Cannabis patient Steve King says the general guideline of six plants per recommendation per year is not a one size fits all answer to everyone's ailments.

"It would be enough for me, some people it may not be, they may need more," King said.

While the number of plants considered to be legal in a medical marijuana garden is subject to interpretation, what is clear to law enforcement is that they need more resources to monitor them.


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