Sacramento eases marijuana laws but cracks down on illegal grows

NEWS3 bbColorado and Washington are settling comfortably into their new normals on the marijuana-legalization front, with the feds backing off and Seattle cops even offering helpful tips on responsible pot consumption. (Do eat Doritos. Don’t drive while high.) But here in California’s state capital, fitful prohibition laws keep the Schedule I narcotic off the tax rolls and in the homes of suspected criminals. During the first week of October, Sacramento County sheriff’s officials seized north of 250 marijuana plants from multiple homes, while city police violated two probationers after locating weed and handguns in their residences.

The local interdiction efforts occurred days after the Sacramento City Council relaxed zoning restrictions for medical-marijuana dispensaries, which proponents believe will improve patient access and public safety, as well as set an example for the region. “We are impacting not just our area, but surrounding areas around us that are watching how we implement this,” said Canna Care’s Lanette Davies, who noted that El Dorado County opened its door to collectives, in part, because of the evolving mood in Sacramento.

The city’s policy shift affects more than a dozen medical-marijuana collectives that have been in limbo for the past three years. During this time, many dispensaries were forced to close or relocate due to federal enforcement, uncertainties in state law and local stasis. “We closed for a time … because many of our friends were raided and had federal interaction,” said A Therapeutic Alternative’s Kimberly Cargile. “We saw what happened to them and didn’t want that to happen to us.”

Both Davies and Cargile were speaking at the October 1 city-council meeting, during which a 5-1 vote walked back some of the stricter requirements applied to dispensaries in November 2009.

Those requirements prohibited pot shops from establishing within 1,000 feet of parks and schools, 600 feet of churches and day cares, and 300 feet of homes.

But now, 15 dispensaries that opened on or before October 26, 2010, can remain where they are or request modified distance restrictions. In all, 34 dispensaries are affected by the amended codes.

So are their patients.

“You don’t know how hard it is to find your medicine when dispensary after dispensary [is] forced to close,” said Marcia Blount, a medical-cannabis user and president of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Sacramento County, whose mission, she said, is to “end the failed war on drugs.”

Speaking of that war, the Sacramento front mostly targets illegal indoor grows.

One raid occurred the morning of Wednesday, October 2, when sheriff’s detectives served a search warrant inside a middle-class subdivision just south of a country club in the unincorporated Vineyard community. Inside the two-story house on Crooked Stick Drive, detectives located indoor marijuana grows totaling 133 plants in both the garage and a downstairs bedroom.

Authorities say a gun, drugs and “copious amounts of caustic chemicals” used to cultivate the marijuana were accessible to the two young children living at the residence.

The kids were placed in protective custody, while the home’s two residents—Tong Tran and Anh Huyen Nguyen, both 27—were arrested for possessing and cultivating marijuana for sale, as well as child endangerment.

Two days after the south county raid, sheriff’s deputies and county probation officers checked in on a Rancho Cordova home and struck green gold again.

According to department reports, officers initially encountered some resistance on the part of 29-year-old Justin Philbrook, who “lied to the officers about who was inside,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa R. Bowman.

Not that it mattered. His probation status allowed officers to enter the residence, where they detained Joshua Frederick Holmboe and Tyler Mickel. Both 24-year-olds are also on probation.

Spotting several ounces of drying marijuana buds on the dining-room table, officers moved into the master bathroom, where they discovered a small marijuana grow. Digital scales and packaging materials were also found. Officers then went to Holmboe’s home nearby and found a separate marijuana grow. Bowman said authorities seized 119 plants between the two grows, not including loose parts and pieces, like buds or stems.

Along with their own probation-search busts, Sacramento police are investigating the October 13 theft of a pound of marijuana from a good Samaritan who was assaulted by the stranded driver he or she pulled over to help near Altos and Acacia avenues.

Councilman Allen Warren, who supported the zoning amendments, warned that the effort to normalize medical marijuana could hit a setback if those within the community didn’t police themselves. His colleague, Councilman Steve Hansen, said the city should next re-examine its prohibition against outdoor cultivation within the city.

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