Medicinal marijuana grower: Prop. 19 poorly written, won’t help patients

Pot harvest, Prop. 19 issues keep Placer County medicinal grower busy
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The buds are sprouting at George Miller’s medicinal marijuana grow, located on property on an isolated hillside somewhere between Auburn and Colfax. They’re sending the sweetish aroma of cannabis wafting over the land where he passionately – and secretively – tends to his crop of 90 plants. The sun and the heat of the summer are lingering, extending a slow growing season that has kept plants smaller than they would normally be but moving steadily toward harvest time – and shipment by armored car to a Northern California collective. With the debate over California’s Prop. 19 heating up in front of the Nov. 2 election, Miller is taking what to some might be considered a surprising stand. Prop. 19 would legalize recreational marijuana use for users over age 21, allow small grows and set the stage for pot sales taxes. But Miller said he’ll be voting against it. Miller said the Sierra Patient and Caregiver Exchange collective is non-profit, with money exchanged for cannabis among members used solely to cover the costs associated with cultivation. Most of the crop provides medicinal marijuana to people with cancer or glaucoma, he said. Miller sees problems ahead for patients when he looks at the fine-print of the proposition. But Prop. 19 proponents like Dale Sky Jones, a Yes on 19 spokeswoman who recently visited Auburn for a debate on the issue, say attacks on the bill obscure the real issue: that California’s current policies have failed and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted enforcing prohibition of cannabis. The bill is poorly written and could put medicinal marijuana smokers in danger of jail time or losing their kids if they smoke in their houses with children present, Miller said. Jones said children are already getting as high as they want on marijuana and because it’s unregulated, it’s easier for them to get than alcohol. A paralegal with a law firm when he isn’t carefully pulling leaves off buds and hand-watering plants with names like Recon, AK-47, skunk and Granddaddy Purple, Miller said that he’s not growing for the money – he’s in it for the cause. COST COVERAGE Miller’s selling the pot grown in a garden next to his house for $650 to $750 a pound – far below what he says is the $2,500-a-pound black-market price. “When it’s all said and done, I cover costs and don’t make a killing,” Miller said. Jones said Prop. 19’s passage result in lowered costs for marijuana, something current medicinal growers and collectives may not be happy about, but also an economic factor that would drop the profits for illegal drug cartels – and providing less money for firepower and manpower against law enforcement. “The cannabis folks are kind of mad at us because we’re trying to pass it,” Jones said. “”You’ll hear Prop. 19 is shoddily written but it’s very important to focus on the details. It was written with a coalition of attorneys, judges and retired law enforcement.” The medicinal marijuana cause still has not been completely sorted out in California since passage by voters in 1996 of the Compassionate Use Act, which allows medicinal marijuana, Miller said. “Fourteen years later, we still haven’t nailed it down,” Miller said. “This will set us back 10 years if it passes because it’s so open to interpretation and nowhere does it say anything about medicinal marijuana.” Prop. 19’s passage would allow marijuana gardens up to 25 square feet on private property. “This garden would be considered illegal,” Miller said. “How can you deal with 30 to 40 patients in a 5-by-5-foot area?” Prop. 19 also leaves it up to local governments to allow sales and tax marijuana purchases. Miller said he doesn’t believe that Placer County governments would be approving sales, leaving Colfax with the only dispensary and most medicinal marijuana patients with the same options they have now – buying on the black market or going to a dispensary in a larger city. POT SALE BAN Auburn and Placer County governments have both instituted bans on marijuana dispensaries and Placer County has a farming ban. Placer County’s came in April, and Miller said he’s grandfathered in on his cannabis grow, much like the Colfax dispensary is grandfathered in as the only one in Placer County allowed to keep operating. At the time of the Board of Supervisors vote, Supervisor Rocky Rockholm – an ex-Roseville Police sergeant – cited 20 years in law enforcement and three years undercover in voting for the ban. Rockholm described what he called a “social experiment” in 2004 after a dispensary opened in Old Town Roseville that “became a criminal enterprise.” The Drug Enforcement Administration eventually shut it down, he said. Prop. 19 will provide too much control to cities and counties, Miller said. “They can do an outright ban no matter what people say about medical cannabis,” Miller said. “They can close doors or charge exorbitant taxes and fees.” During the coming harvest – just as it has been during the long grow season – members of the collaborative who are physically able will help out. Some take turns staying with the grow to guard it. Others prune or help with the daily watering, with a soupy mixture of nutrients that includes bat guano and worm casings. The pot patch has already been “ripped off” once this summer, with parts of four plants being taken, Miller said. Miller said he stays armed but the weaponry is more out of concern for bear attacks on a menagerie of rescued animals that includes horses, chickens, dogs, ducks and rabbits. AGING COLLECTIVE The youngest member in Miller’s collective is 43. The oldest is 72. His sister is a member. Miller said she’s at Stage 4 of cancer that is now on her brain and has already resulted in a mastectomy and hysterectomy. His best friend of more than a quarter century is also in Stage 4 of cancer and part of the collective. Miller said he avoids patients who are young and may not necessarily have a legitimate medical reason to use medical cannabis. But he adds that they too have a right to marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. Miller uses cannabis salves rather than smoking marijuana to deal with the lingering neuropathy from a truck accident four years ago and then a fall from a roof. The salves and lotions are also used to soothe his horses’ aches and pains. And if Prop. 19 does pass, he admit he’s already looking into ways to market a product that already comes in many forms besides smokeable leaves – including lollipops, cakes, sodas, ice cream and brownies. Miller said his uncle was dying of AIDS 20 years ago and he took care of him for two years. During that time, he found that cannabis edibles helped AIDS patients keep their weights up. Today, Miller said that he’s had sheriff’s helicopters over his property circling and dropping down to as low as 100 feet above his garden. On his roof is a notice that he is in compliance with Prop. 215. In his house is an inch-thick stack of legal information that Miller said guards him from arrest but doesn’t prevent a search of his premises. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office receives information on marijuana grows in a variety of ways and deputies will often not know if the grow is for medicinal purposes until the person responsible for the plants in contacted, Lt. Jeff Ausnow said. “A variety of actions can take place at that time,” Ausnow said. “If the growers are in compliance with Prop. 215 and the recent Kelly decision, then no action will be taken.” The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in the case People vs. Kelly against many counties’ thresholds on medicinal marijuana amounts, stating possession could be of a “reasonable amount.” Miller said he’s received legal advice to grow 99 plants or fewer. If the grow is determined to be for other than medical purposes, then there are several possible outcomes, up to and including the confiscation of plants and arrest of the growers, Ausnow said. Miller said law enforcement needs to devote its time to large-scale grows planted by cartels that are kidnapping people in Mexico to run the farms and threatening to harm their families if they don’t cooperate. Prop. 19 will immediately be challenged in the courts because it will be violating federal law, Miller said. But it also could mean a new player in what could be a high-stakes economic showdown, he added. “If this goes, corporate America will want to be in on this,” Miller said. ---------------------------- Prop. 19 fast facts - Would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use - Individuals could grow marijuana gardens of up to 25 square feet on private property - Cities and counties would decided whether to allow sales and taxation of marijuana within their boundaries Source: The Associated Press