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Medical Marijuana regulations questioned

Several people who may apply for Nevada’s medical marijuana program said Friday restrictions on caregivers should be relaxed.

The issue was raised during a workshop on the proposed regulations the Agriculture Department will use to administer the program.

The Agriculture Commission is to vote on final regulations at its Aug. 30 meeting. The department will begin accepting applications for cards Sept. 24 and intends to have the program in operation by Oct. 1.

The 2001 Legislature approved legislation designed to allow those with specific debilitating and chronic diseases to get a registration card permitting them to possess and use small quantities of the drug. Those include cancer, AIDS and glaucoma, among others.

But part of the proposed regulations would prohibit one caregiver from serving more than one patient on medical marijuana.

“It would be easier if people could share caregivers,” said Laurie O’Bryne, who suffers from painful arthritis.

But Deputy Agriculture Director Don Henderson said the concern is that one caregiver with several patients would end up growing or maintaining large supplies of marijuana.

“So far the federal government has not tried to interfere with registration systems, but if a caregiver is growing large quantities for several persons, that might attract the federal government,” he said after the meeting.

He said that could put the caregiver in a situation similar to the Cannabis Club in San Francisco, which was providing marijuana to members for medical use.

“That’s why we restricted it,” he said.

But O’Bryne and others at the meeting said it’s difficult to find people willing and qualified to assume the responsibility as primary caregiver for a seriously ill person, and being able to serve more than one person on medical marijuana would allow those who can do the job to help more people.

They suggested instead the regulations simply prohibit a caregiver from having or growing more than the medical marijuana statute permits – one ounce of dried and prepared marijuana, three mature plants and four immature plants.

Andrew J. Goulart, representing his father, questioned the limits as impractical, pointing out that one mature plant might yield more than a pound of prepared pot.

“Are they supposed to throw away the rest?” he asked.

But Agriculture officials said later the answer is simple – just don’t harvest the entire plant all at once.

Goulart’s father, Andrew Sr., said he has had surgeries to remove 34 malignant tumors from his legs. He said the pain is “excruciating” and that pain killers aren’t doing the job because they lose their effectiveness or cause dangerous side effects.

“As God is my judge, I’ve never taken marijuana, but if it’ll help, I’m willing to give it a try,” he said.

Aimee Schoenfeldt said she suffers serious pain because of a medical condition and that marijuana might be a help to her.

“It’s a great thing to be able to find a natural way to manage pain on a long term basis,” she said.

All agreed the Nevada plan to at least not prosecute users of medical marijuana on the state level is a good start but urged the state to do something about the federal laws complicating the system.

Henderson said the legislation also directed the Agriculture Department to lobby the federal government to study the value of marijuana medically and allow the state to make seeds or even cultured marijuana available to those qualified for registry cards.

Because federal authorities currently forbid any medical use of the plant, the Nevada program can promise only that state authorities won’t arrest and prosecute them for using and possessing pot. Those in the program could still be prosecuted by federal officials.

Nevada is the ninth state to legalize medical marijuana. The state’s program is modeled after Oregon’s. So far, the federal government hasn’t made any moves against registrants in states where medical use has been legalized.