Dude, Where's My Pot?

Ten years after California legalized medical marijuana, OCs war on cannabis continues

Assistant Sheriff Steve Bishop, a spokesman for Sheriff Mike Carona, told the supes his department would ignore ID cards and continue its policy of confiscating cannabis and doctor's prescriptions and forwarding them as evidence to the DA's office for prosecution. DA Tony Rackauckas showed up in person to denounce medical-marijuana users as lawbreakers who want to "escape from the realities of life and get high for a while."

Some OC medical-marijuana activists actually agree with Rackauckas and Carona about the wisdom of implementing the voluntary statewide ID-card program—but for entirely different reasons. "They're not making child molesters get cards, so why should we?" argues Andy Kinnon, a medical-marijuana activist and pastor with the Northern Lights Church in south Orange County. "A lot of people like the cards because it gives you the recognition you need, but others feel it will be turned over the federal government. And it's not going to stop the cops from confiscating cannabis. This whole thing has gone too far. It's harassment."

In the past few years, dozens of cannabis clubs from San Francisco to Los Angeles have been raided by federal agents who confiscated their crops. Orange County also has roughly 20 dispensaries and co-ops, all of which are listed on the CANORML (California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) website, www.canorml.org, and several of which boast delivery services. But many medical-marijuana activists, including Kinnon, denounce pot dispensaries, especially the high-profile LA clubs, for taking advantage of Prop. 215 by selling expensive cannabis. "I see them as 'pot-repreneurs,'" Kinnon says, adding that his organization only advises patients on establishing co-ops. "I'm against all these dispensaries popping up all over the place."

Richard Quell. Photo by John Gilhooley
Richard Quell. Photo by John Gilhooley

As the bizarre showdown between OC's two top cops and the elected officials who pay their salaries suggests, one thing is clear: Quell isn't the only Orange County resident who is confused about what's legal and what isn't when it comes to medical marijuana. Federal law prohibits the possession, transportation, cultivation and use of medical marijuana. And state law—both Prop. 215 and SB420—supposedly protects Californians with doctor's notes.

But that only matters if local officials, who aren't sworn to enforce federal law, are willing to enforce state law. And in Orange County perhaps more than anywhere else in California, local officials have made it clear that state laws they don't agree with will not interfere with their righteous war on weed. Which means that, more than a decade after California voters overwhelmingly approved the medical use of marijuana, patients and caregivers who think they are following the law often find themselves on the wrong side of it.

OC medical-marijuana patients who spoke to the Weekly say they're stuck in a Catch-22 of chronic proportions. If you can prove you're covered by Prop. 215 and are obeying the limits of cannabis possession outlined in SB420, it's unlikely you'll go to jail, they say. But if you're unlucky enough to be pulled over or otherwise confronted by police or sheriff's deputies in Orange County, and you have pot and a doctor's note with you, chances are you can kiss your cannabis goodbye.

*   *   *

If you're 20 years old, live in Laguna Hills, wear a Mohawk haircut and have medical marijuana in your car, it's probably not wise to drive around town with expired registration tags on your rear license plate. Joel Cymerint learned that lesson on March 10, the same day a sheriff's deputy pulled him over. Since Cymerint had marijuana in his car, he says he was reaching for his doctor's note when the deputy yanked him out of the car and forced him to the pavement.

"He really hassled me," says Cymerint, who smokes cannabis with a vaporizer to relieve asthma. "His excuse is he thought I was going for a gun. He grabbed my crotch two or three times and asked me if I was hiding anything in my rectum. I sat on the curb, told him where my medicine was in the car, and he took it, put me under arrest and wrote me a ticket."

Although Cymerint insists he only had two grams of high-grade pot in his car, the deputy wrote him a ticket for possessing concentrated cannabis, which is cop-speak for what most people call hashish or liquefied pot resin. Court records show the deputy also charged Cymerint with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, possession and use of false evidence of age, and failure to prove current registration for his car.

"I've never been in trouble before," he says. "I've had a doctor's recommendation for three years, and I've seen three different doctors, and they all agree cannabis is good for my asthma. I use a regular inhaler, too, but I don't like it because it increases my heart rate and gives me anxiety."

At his arraignment, Cymerint pleaded not guilty to all charges and showed a court commissioner his doctor's note. The commissioner told him to choose a public defender and show up in court in a few weeks. "When I showed him my paperwork, the commissioner was very respectful," Cymerint says. "The deputy treated me like dirt."

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