Medical marijuana dispute pits 1960s pop singer’s son against ‘the law’
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Marijuana information clinic wafting its way through NCW
By K.C. Mehaffey
World staff writer
WENATCHEE — First Omak, now Wenatchee.
Best Medical Consultation of Spokane planned to be at the Red Lion in Wenatchee on Saturday to issue medical marijuana cards to patients who qualify.
The clinic came to Omak in November at the request of two medical marijuana patients who are facing charges for growing pot on their property. Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan said they were growing more plants than allowed by law.
The clinics, he said, are highly profitable ventures designed to make money, not treat patients.
“What may be a good and useful tool for people who are really sick — many people are abusing that, bottom line, for profit,” he said.
The doctor spends a few minutes with each patient, looking over their medical records to determine if they can legally smoke pot, and then authorizes those who qualify, he said. “If a doctor was doing that with Prozac, they would probably lose their license immediately,” Sloan said.
“Most of the medical marijuana certifications are originated by a very few doctors and clinics statewide, who are not a patient’s normal treating physician,” he said. “You don’t see many actual physicians recommending medical marijuana.”
Donn Moyer, spokesman for the state Department of Health, said the state does not track how many or which doctors issue medical marijuana cards, due to doctor-patient confidentiality. The state also does not know how many people have a medical marijuana card in Washington.
“A doctor-patient relationship is supposed to exist, and that takes more than 15 minutes in a hotel conference room,” he said. “The law was made by an initiative petition, and often those don’t take into account a lot of things, so that leaves them up to interpretation. Dispensaries are not legal either, but people are doing it,” he said.
He said marijuana is still illegal in Washington. The law only gives patients a legal defense if they are caught with marijuana.
Justin Pitts, a spokesman for Best Medical Consultation, said the clinics were set up in Omak and Wenatchee because many patients in rural areas can’t find a local doctor who will write medical marijuana authorization.
That’s not because other doctors don’t believe marijuana has any medical benefits, he said, but because they worry it could jeopardize federal funding they receive. Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule 1 narcotic, meaning there are no medical uses for it.
“We’ve had referrals (from other doctors) because they don’t want to put their name on it,” he said.
Dr. David Weber, retiring chairman and CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, said in an e-mail that he doesn’t think any of the medical center’s doctors are issuing medical marijuana cards. “There is too much controversy and uncertainly surrounding the topic for anyone to want to do so,” he wrote.
He said the medical center doesn’t know whether it would face any federal penalties if its doctors issued medical marijuana certifications, but it’s not worth the risk to find out.
Weber hasn’t sufficiently researched the medical uses of marijuana, or the risks of using it, to discuss those aspects, he said.
According to state law, people with a terminal illness, chronic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma and other diseases can be legally treated with marijuana.
Pitts said the clinic’s staff screens patients before they ever see the doctor to find out if they may have a condition that could be helped by marijuana.
Wenatchee Police Sgt. John Kruse said his agency had no plans for extra patrols Saturday, and did not anticipate any problems from the medical marijuana clinic.
“If they have a doctor who’s going to be issuing cards in accordance with the law, that’s their business,” he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
OKANOGAN — John Novak is in a fight with the law over what he believes is his right to grow medical marijuana for himself and another medical marijuana patient at his remote Okanogan County home.
He’s hoping the battle doesn’t turn out the way it did for the guy in his dad’s hit song, “I fought the law.”
Novak, 45, says he is the son of the late Bobby Fuller, best known for the 1965 top-ten single with the familiar refrain that ends “and the law won.”
But in his case, Novak says, the law is on his side. If a judge doesn’t dismiss the criminal charges against him next week, he thinks a jury will see it his way when his case goes to trial Feb. 1.
In July, a drug task force raided his Wauconda home and confiscated 59 marijuana plants growing in a shop and greenhouse, along with dried marijuana, guns and growing equipment. He wasn’t arrested, and a week later, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office returned his guns. They would not give back his marijuana or growing equipment, so he sued to get his possessions returned.
Two months after the raid, he was charged in Okanogan County Superior Court with manufacturing marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Since age 14, Novak has suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. He said marijuana dramatically reduces the occurrence of petite mal seizures, and eases the side effects from the prescription medication he takes for grand mal seizures.
Novak said a friend who had seizures recommended he try marijuana, and he told his physician, Dr. Ronald Schneeweiss at University of Washington’s Department of Family Medicine, to research and authorize a medical marijuana card for him in 2004.
“It’s changed my life,” he said. “I literally went from someone who was a hermit in an apartment in Seattle, and now I have 10 acres and own a business. I have a life,” he said.
In addition to growing marijuana for medicinal purposes, Novak grows garden plants, trees and shrubs to sell through his business, Wauconda Gardens.
For patients with certain conditions, medical marijuana has been a legal defense for possessing pot in Washington since voters passed Initiative 692 in 1998. In 2008, the state defined the 60-day supply which patients are allowed to have as 24 dried ounces and 15 plants.
Novak said the task force found 59 marijuana plants on his property in July because he and two other medical marijuana patients were living at his house at the time of the raid. He said he was the designated provider for one other patient. By his calculations, four separate patients should be allowed to grow up to 60 plants for their own medical use.
“I was one plant under” the legal limit, he said.
Karl Sloan, Okanogan County’s prosecutor, sees it differently.
“Under the statute, you can be a provider, but you can’t use the marijuana” for yourself, he said. The statute also says you can only be a provider for one patient at any one time, but doesn’t specify whether that includes yourself.
Sloan said problems with the law arise when people try to merge more than one medical marijuana authorization, because there’s no distinction to determine which marijuana belongs to whom.
The state Department of Health — which answers frequently-asked questions about medical marijuana on its website — is unclear about the issue. A question asking, “Can I be a patient and a designated provider?” is answered, “The law does not say that a patient may or may not also be a designated provider. It does say that a designated provider may not consume a qualifying patient’s medical marijuana.”
Sloan said some medical marijuana patients are trying to form cooperatives or start dispensaries to grow and distribute marijuana to patients. But the law clearly does not allow those, he said.
Two bills have been introduced this session in the state’s House and Senate to clarify the medical marijuana regulations: Senate Bill 5073 and House Bill 1100. They would require the state Department of Agriculture to regulate growing of marijuana, and give the state Department of Health the authority to license medical marijuana dispensaries for distribution.
Sgt. Brad Wilson, who heads the North Central Washington Narcotics Task Force which raided Novak’s home, said he’ll follow whatever the law says, and right now Washington does not allow people to operate dispensaries or grow for more than one medical marijuana patient at a time. There are no provisions for where medical marijuana patients are supposed to get marijuana, other than growing it themselves, or finding a designated provider who can grow for only one person.
Wilson said his task force found several people with medical marijuana cards growing pot last summer, and those in compliance were not arrested if they were operating within the law. “If people are legitimately in possession of their letter or card, and are growing within the parameters of the law, we’re not bothering those people,” he said. “But there are people saying, ‘I’m growing for two or three other people,’ and we know the law says you can’t do that.” Wilson said he believes those growers are actually selling the marijuana they grow for a profit, which is clearly illegal.
But Novak said he’s no drug dealer.
Wearing a T-shirt that proclaims, “Legalize Cannabis in 2011,” Novak said he used to hide the fact that he uses and grows marijuana for medication. But after the raid in July, he started being open about his use, and all of the benefits he sees in hemp, including food, fiber and fuel.
He’s hoping his criminal case will clarify whether a medical marijuana patient can also be a provider for someone else.
“If me going public like this keeps even one other person from having to go through this, it’ll be worth it,” he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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