Odd alliance on medical marijuana: Cops, activists

A dispensary's sign on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. (Photo: Laurie Avocado)

An unlikely relationship is forming between medical marijuana advocates and local peace officers.

Traditionally, they have been in conflict. But now they are coming together to resolve at least one aspect of  California’s unregulated cannabis industry dealing with the rights of patients to retain their own medical equipment and the rights of law enforcement officers to secure evidence.

A bill to codify this emerging alliance is in the works in the Capitol.

“What I think is really significant coming out of this legislation is the creation of the relationship between the medical cannabis advocates and the sheriffs departments statewide,” said state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.

It would reduce the minimum amount of marijuana that law enforcement should hold as evidence from the current 10 pounds to two, plus representative samples and photos.

Voters approved medicinal toking back in 1996, but the Legislature hasn’t yet approved a comprehensive oversight on the industry.

Two other bills introduced this session are competing to wholly regulate medical marijuana in California.

Law enforcement has thrown its weight behind Sen. Lou Correa’s, D- Santa Ana, bill to have the state Public Health Department oversee medical recommendations. Patient advocates, however, are supporting legislation by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, that would establish a medical cannabis division within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Both continue to make their way through the legislative process.

Evans, meanwhile, is biting on a smaller piece of the pie with her proposal.

Evans’ bill, SB 1193, is a collaboration of the Peace Officers Research Association and the Drug Policy Alliance.

It would reduce the minimum amount of marijuana that law enforcement should hold as evidence from the current 10 pounds to two, plus representative samples and photos. It would also clarify an acquitted medicinal patients’ right to just compensation in case their plants and tools, such as smoking pipes and vaporizers, are destroyed.

“My understanding is that [the legislation] is going to have significant savings for local sheriffs because it’s quite expensive to store and maintain these huge amounts of evidence over what can be several years,” Evans said.

Although the bill seeks to benefit legitimate patients, the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice were the only recorded opposition to Evans’ bill, according to the state’s legislative website, when it went before the Senate Pubic Safety Committee.

Lobbyist Dennis García said CACJ’s concern rested on law enforcement deciding what a representational sample was, but the group is still reviewing the bill’s most recent language changes.

“But for the most part it is favorable to criminal defendants,” García said. “But our process is that, before we make any changes to any previous position, is that we take it back to leg[islative] committee to make a full determination.”

The bill was approved in Public Safety with no dissent, 6-0, and is set to be heard in the Senate Committee on Appropriations May 19.

This relatively minor, clarifying change in legal language is a sign of shifting perspectives on the issue of cannabis in California that Evans hopes will continue moving forward.

“That they are able to sit at a table and work through this one particular issue is pretty historic,” Evans said. “The ability to carry this relationship on in the future I think is going to serve California well.”


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