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City Council Approves Pound Limit For Medical Marijuana

Wed Feb 5, 3:43 PM ET

The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to direct the city attorney to draw up ordinances that would allow people with a prescription for pot to possess up to a pound of the otherwise illegal weed.

So-called caregivers could possess up to 2 pounds.

Federal law, however, does not recognize state laws legalizing pot for any use, and federal agents have raided so-called medical marijuana growers clubs across California.

The city's Medical Cannabis Task Force recommended a limit of 3 pounds for patients and 12 pounds for caregivers. The idea was to give people an idea of how much pot they could grow or possess without fear of arrest by San Diego police.

The council rejected a proposal to allow marijuana to be grown outdoors, and capped the number of plants allowed indoors at 24 for individuals and 48 for caregivers.

Marijuana is illegally sold for nearly $500 per ounce, making a pound worth several thousand dollars on the street, police said.

The compromise resolution that was approved directed the city attorney to prepare the ordinances necessary to give the guidelines the force of law for for two years. Voting "no" were Mayor Dick Murphy, and councilmen Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer.

Some people have complained that the movement to allow for the use of medical marijuana is just a step toward legalizing the drug.

But Councilman Ralph Inzunza said: "These guidelines do not legitimize or legalize marijuana in any way."

Madaffer and Maienschein said one important reason that they could not support the guidelines was that federal law makes no exception for medicinal use.

Dozens of people testified on both sides of the issue, with those in favor saying the guidelines were necessary to help sick people, and those against saying the action would send the wrong message to children.

Proposition 215, the 1996 voter-approved state ballot measure allowing for the medicinal use of cannabis, contained no guidelines for growing or possessing the stuff.

Identification cards would be issued to people whose status as a patient or caregiver has been verified.

A caregiver is defined as the person a patient designates as responsible for his or her housing, health or safety.

People with felony convictions for selling illegal drugs will not be considered.

Individuals must have a San Diego-based doctor recommend pot for medical use.

"The guideline goals are to provide a safe harbor for patients and doctors to assist police in identifying legitimate medical cannabis users while enforcing the law against criminals," said task force Chairwoman Juliana Humphrey.

San Diego Police Chief Dave Bejarano said "the use of marijuana by legitimate patients has not been an issue" for his department.

Police opposed the city codifying any amount for medical marijuana users.

Those in support of the guidelines talked about compassion for people with serious illnesses.

"This isn't an issue about making marijuana accessible to children, this is about making medical marijuana accessible to sick people who need it," said Marion Otto.

Ann Shanahan-Walsh, a task force member diagnosed with breast cancer (news - web sites) in 1999, said her first chemotherapy treatment left her "violently ill," but that the marijuana sugar cookies she got through a friend in San Francisco made the "terrible after-effects" tolerable.

She said nurses asked her where other patients could get pot.

"It seemed so terribly unfair that something so simple could be withheld from people who were in such desperate need," she said.

People against decriminalizing pot said current San Diego police policy -- evaluating medical marijuana claims on a case-by-case basis -- were sufficient.

"I am deathly afraid that these guidelines are going to be very harmful to kids in our community," said Judge James Milliken, presiding judge of the Juvenile Court. "The guidelines are extremely liable to abuse."