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  1. Alfa
    'POT CLUB' THRIVES IN OILDALE

    Doctor's Signature, Long Application Required Before Drug Sold to Users

    The dry-erase menu board inside the modest storefront has an
    interesting array of offerings.

    There's Mexican Red Bud, Northern California Outdoor and Mendocino
    Skunk. And the store even offers marijuana-laced candy bars wrapped to
    look like store brands.

    This isn't liberal Berkeley, Santa Cruz or Los Angeles, where "pot
    clubs" have operated for several years.

    It's downtown Oildale, where it's been for about year.

    All the varieties offered for sale at the local pot club are sold
    legally. But no one buys, or even enters the premises without a
    scheduled appointment and a doctor's note prescribing marijuana for
    their illness.

    And smoking is not permitted.

    The cannabis dispensary is similar to those operating in cities like
    San Francisco, where medicinal marijuana patients are issued
    identification cards that confirm they have a doctor's
    recommendation.

    California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Proposition 215) has
    finally made it to Kern County. The law allows people to use marijuana
    for ailments such as cancer, arthritis and migraines if recommended by
    a doctor.

    The law is becoming even more refined across the state, notably with a
    bill that went into effect in January. That law mandates the state to
    set up a voluntary identification card-issuing program for patients.
    It also allows patients to designate "caregivers" to grow marijuana
    for them.

    Local shop owner Joe Fortt took those laws to heart when he opened
    American Kenpo Kung Fu School of Public Health about a year ago in
    Oildale, selling weed to medicinal marijuana users and signing up
    about 50 patients who designated him as a caregiver.

    Fortt believes people have a right to smoke marijuana for health
    reasons and that the drug far surpasses prescription drugs, without
    the negative side effects.

    "There is not a patient on our list that's not struggling to survive,"
    he said.

    Sick people shouldn't be buying their medicine on the streets where
    it's dangerous, he said. And people who need it appreciate coming to a
    place that's local, safe and reasonable, he said.

    "I've taken every step I can do to follow the law, so if they're gonna
    arrest me here I am," he said.

    Anyone who wants to buy marijuana from the store must fill out a long
    application to get a medical marijuana user-identification card issued
    by the shop.

    They must complete a form, get a doctor's signature, authorize the
    release of their medical information, have a photo ID, proof of
    residence and pay a $25 fee.The shop will verify the information
    before allowing a purchase, Fortt said.

    Fortt said that despite the threat of law enforcement shutting down
    his shop, he doesn't want to stop.

    "I've gotta wake up and look myself in the face. And I'm not going to
    be silent about it. I'm not going to live in fear of my life," he said.

    Law enforcement officials say they want to follow the law. But when
    they believe someone's skirting the edges, they'll make an arrest.

    At least a few Kern County juries haven't agreed in recent cases.

    In the last few months, jurors have acquitted at least two defendants
    on marijuana charges. Those defendants had doctor recommendations.

    Public defender Mark Arnold said the law is clear, but enforcement varies.

    "The law speaks for itself and the law should not have any particular
    application in one geographical area and have a different application
    in another area," Arnold said. "None of us in law enforcement can pick
    and choose what laws we like."

    Kern County Sheriff Mack Wimbish said he doesn't agree with the law,
    but he has to abide by it.

    He also didn't think Kern was in need of a cannabis dispensary.

    "But again, I will follow the law," he said.

    Wimbish pointed out that the law has been subject to a number of
    challenges in higher courts. And federal law still prohibits marijuana.

    For now, he said, suspected medical marijuana cases are handled
    individually.

    Fortt said he has submitted a proposal asking the Board of Supervisors
    to pass a resolution to create a medical card identification program
    in Kern and create local guidelines on the issue. But supervisors
    haven't responded to his requests, he said.

    He also wants to contract with the county so he can grow marijuana for
    those who sign up for the program.

    "People are sick and need help. Our county is an agricultural county,"
    he said. "Instead of diverting money outside the county, we should be
    diverting money to the community."

    Dr. Claudia Jonah, assistant public health officer for Kern County
    Department of Public Health, said that before the agency can issue
    cards, the state health department must set guidelines.

    Then the department can issue identification cards, which can be
    checked for authentication by law enforcement.

    Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office,
    agreed that the lines on the issue are fuzzy. The 1996 law left some
    guidelines up to individual communities.

    But the bill that mandates a state ID system may help protect those
    who use marijuana for medical purposes. The federal law issue is still
    to be hashed out in court.

    That leaves much of the decision-making up to police.

    "Law enforcement is always going to have to make the determination of,
    is the patient a valid patient or a drug smuggler who is using
    Proposition 215 as a guise to escape liability," she said.

    Fortt said local guidelines could help Kern get a handle on the
    situation.

    "We can identify what these disagreements are so we can have an
    understanding," Fortt said.

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  1. Alfa
    POT 'CLUB' HAD POLICE OK, COURT TOLD

    For years Ted Smith has sold medical marijuana to sick people with the
    full knowledge - and even advice - of Victoria police, provincial
    court heard Wednesday.

    "The police department had been aware of our operation for years,"
    Smith testified. "We've had police officers actually refer people to
    our club."

    Smith, 34, and Colby Budda, 30, are on trial for possession for the
    purpose of trafficking.

    The charges stem from a Jan. 3, 2002, police search of a downtown
    storefront operation, then known as Ted's Books, on Johnson Street.

    It was where Smith operated what he testified is commonly known as a
    "compassion club," selling marijuana to people with chronic illnesses.

    Testifying in his own defence, Smith told provincial court Judge
    Loretta Chaperon he began in 1995 to personally distribute marijuana
    for use as medicine to people suffering from illnesses such as AIDS
    and cancer.

    Smith said he sees distribution of the controlled substance to sick
    people as a civic duty. "I grew up with the idea that we have, as a
    society and as individuals, a requirement to protect the most
    vulnerable people in our society."

    He has always been a vocal and public advocate for medical marijuana,
    speaking at City Hall, holding press conferences.

    But in 2001, Smith said a police officer told him that police were
    aware of his operation and advised him to operate it more openly, from
    a storefront. The store opened on March 20, 2001.

    Smith testified that for people to buy marijuana from the club they
    must show photo ID and some proof of chronic illness. The club has a
    membership list of more than 800 people.

    Smith said the marijuana is always sold according to what it costs the
    club. The club has barely covered its costs and has been a
    money-losing operation recently.

    Smith said police left the operation alone except for a few occasions,
    like one in September 2001 when officers told him to burn more incense
    to hide the smell.

    But on Jan. 3, 2002, a beat patrol officer entered the store and spied
    someone rolling a marijuana cigarette.

    Const. Ryan O'Neil testified he had been working for six months as a
    beat officer and

    hadn't heard of the club's existence. But on the day of the search, a
    man approached him and told him what was going on in the store. O'Neil
    said the man was angry and wanted to come along and watch police take
    it down.

    When O'Neil entered the store, one of the people inside was rolling
    the cigarette.

    O'Neil said he asked Smith if he would consent to a search and Smith
    agreed. Items found included 646 grams of marijuana and about a
    kilogram of cookies which laboratory analysis revealed contained marijuana.

    O'Neil said Smith was entirely co-operative and even helped show him
    around.



    The trial continues at a later date.
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