Medical marijuana backers, DA split

Discussion in 'The Drug War Headline News' started by Logos, May 31, 2004.

  1. Logos Logos

    • CannaSacrament Minister
    • Since: Jun 1, 2001
    • Posts: 2,031
    Passalacqua accused of 'petty' pot prosecutions


    Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua is at odds with medical marijuana activists, who were among his staunchest supporters when he ran for office two years ago.

    The activists say Passalacqua reneged on a campaign promise not to prosecute medical marijuana cases.

    Passalacqua denies the allegation, but abruptly canceled a meeting last week with the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana after its complaint became public.

    In a six-page letter, the group pointedly accused the first-term district attorney of "prosecuting petty medical marijuana cases that have no business taking up court time and resources."

    During his campaign, Passalacqua promised to "stop prosecuting nonviolent crimes," singling out medical marijuana cases as an example.

    He says he has kept the promise since taking office 17 months ago, and was ready to discuss the issue at a meeting that was set for Friday.

    "I called the meeting in good faith to receive their input," Passalacqua said. "However, based upon the inaccurate assertions in their letter, I didn't feel the climate was appropriate to have a meaningful discussion."

    [Suetaznote: Chicken!]

    Eight Sonoma County residents who claim they use or grow marijuana for medical purposes currently face felony charges brought by the district attorney. Some had expired physician-approval cards or no cards at all, while others allegedly exceeded the county's limit on how much marijuana one person can grow.

    Activists claim that the county narcotics task force, with the district attorney's blessing, is cracking down on people based on technicalities, in some cases seizing entire marijuana crops or leaving too little to be of any benefit to medical users.

    But Passalacqua said his views have been misrepresented, and reiterated his support for Proposition 215, the 1996 initiative allowing medicinal use of marijuana.

    Passalacqua said the pending cases reflect prosecutors' doubts that the defendants complied with the law.

    "If new information comes later we re-evaluate the case and look at each one on its merits," he said. "We've done that. We have used our discretion and we have dismissed cases."

    But the activists contend that the fact charges were even filed is a sign Passalacqua isn't the compassionate person he portrayed himself as during his bid to unseat Mike Mullins in 2002.

    "Are they going to get patients on any technicality or have compassion and acknowledge simple human error and not drag people into court for that?" asked Doc Knapp, a spokesman for the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

    The group has had ongoing meetings with lower level officials in the District Attorney's Office as well as with Sheriff Bill Cogbill and others in his department.

    Friday's meeting was to include former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who testified for the defense in a marijuana case filed by Mullins. The defendant in that case was acquitted.

    Hallinan, who accompanied the group for its meeting with Cogbill, didn't return a call seeking comment.

    Knapp, whose group has been at the forefront of the local medical marijuana movement for several years, said the abrupt cancellation doesn't mean activists are at a loggerheads with law enforcement.

    "The climate's always right to talk about sick and dying patients," Knapp said.

    The issue is the latest skirmish over the state's medical marijuana law, which has been criticized as vague and conflicts with federal laws prohibiting the use of pot for any purpose.

    Activists estimate Sonoma County has several thousand physician-approved patients qualified to cultivate, obtain and possess marijuana for their own use. About 450 people have registered with the district attorney and the Sonoma County Medical Association under a program that is supposed to keep them safe from prosecution.

    Under a state law enacted last year, users or primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana. Additionally, they may maintain no more than six mature and 12 immature marijuana plants per qualified patient.

    But the law, signed by former Gov. Gray Davis, also allows local governments to set their own limits. Sonoma County allows up to three pounds per year per user and up to 99 plants, limits that were in place before the state law was passed.

    Passalacqua said he is "evaluating" whether the limits need to be lowered in Sonoma County, a view expressed by other law enforcement officials.

    [Suetaznote: This makes it sound like he's getting pressure from law enforcement officials to lower the limits.]

    "We do have a particular standard that we've enjoyed," Assistant Sheriff Gary Zanolini said. "However, the state mandate is less than the standard here. We have to come to some understanding."

    Zanolini said the Sheriff's Department isn't targeting medical marijuana users, calling the cases in question a small fraction of drug enforcement efforts in Sonoma County.

    "People get really focused on medical marijuana, thinking that's the majority of claims out there. It really isn't," he said. "We've done a better job of avoiding those."

    Knapp's group opposes a reduction in allowed amounts and is vigorously fighting to maintain the status quo.

    "The three-pound guidelines we've had for three years turned out be a formula that worked well," he said. "If we backtrack from that, patients are going to be suffering or busted for producing the amount they really need."

    Among the pending Sonoma County cases, three people had expired physician approvals. One had approval from an acupuncturist but not a physician. In another case, two people obtained approvals after they were charged with possession and cultivation.

    The size of the crop was the main factor in two cases, one involving Cazadero resident Nick Johnson, who says he is a provider for five medical users.

    Sheriff's deputies raided Johnson's home in October and confiscated all but one of 99 mature pot plants after determining that the crop exceeded 500 square feet -- 100 feet for each patient. The county allows a maximum of 100 square feet.

    "I had exceeded my limitations, maybe, but they were wrong in taking everything," he said. "They shouldn't have taken all the plants."

    A preliminary hearing is set for next month.

    Despite the possibility of jail time, Johnson said he is growing marijuana again while seeking to register with the district attorney.

    You can reach Staff Writer Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or

    [Suetaznote: Like was mentioned in the article, the laws are vague and allow for medical growers to be targetted on technicalities. The laws need to be changed to protect the growers' legitimate plants. A grower should get a small fine or a warning for a first offence for starters. Some people seem to feel that if a grower is in the wrong they deserve what they get. If you had cancer and using marijuana was a life or death situation, do you think you would feel the same way if someone took away your life saving medicine on a technicality?]
  2. StewScum StewScum

    • Activist
    • Since: May 22, 2004
    • Posts: 838
    It's plain wrong giving sick people a false sense of security in their medicin. Thats like telling a diabetic you can take insulin, but you'll go to jail for 20 years for having a syringe. The goverment is doing more than taking away something that make people better, they are saying its ok to have their medicin and then taking it away.

    I would file lawsuits if i were them.
  3. Suetaz Suetaz

    • Seasoned Activist
    • Since: Jan 28, 2004
    • Posts: 2,158
    They are having to replace all their plants so financially, they probably wouldn't be able to sue, lawsuits can be pretty expensive, but it might work if they could get a lawyer to do it pro bono. If they sue for damages and legal fees, they could pay the lawyer when/if they win. I'm assuming they wouldn't be able to sue unless they were in the right and the cops were in the wrong though. They say the plants were legitimate and that the paperwork just wasn't caught up. Any legal experts out there? Could they sue them?

    I agree with what you said StewScum, it's just damn ignorant to take medication away from sick people, regardless of what the medication is, or to make it hard for them to get.
  4. StewScum StewScum

    • Activist
    • Since: May 22, 2004
    • Posts: 838
    Couldn't they sue on the grounds that the politician did not do what he promised, is that grounds for a lawsuit. Did they have something in writing or in a public speech, i think that may do it.
  5. Suetaz Suetaz

    • Seasoned Activist
    • Since: Jan 28, 2004
    • Posts: 2,158
    I think if that were the case, politicians everywhere would be getting sued. How many politicans have said one thing while they were campaigning and then did the opposite when they were elected. Policitians renege all the time unfortunately. They usually come up with all kinds of excuses too, the lying SOB's. But those lying politicians can be voted out next election.
  6. OccultPizza OccultPizza

    • New Member
    • Since: Dec 13, 2003
    • Posts: 96

    Gee. I for one am so shocked an amazed. ~snickers~ This war has been going on for over 30+yrs now. Too much money is being made by keeping it that way. But hey. We all know, and have all said, and will be saying it 30yrs from now if the world was till going to be around.

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