Jeff Nunes, 26, loves his plants.
He fingers the green, glossy leaves and looks lovingly at the
2-foot-tall plant as if it were his life's salvation.
Nunes believes it is. He says the 11 marijuana plants provide
the cannabis that relieves him of extreme back pain.
"They said I was going to be in chronic pain all my
life," he said.
A fall in 2001 left him bedridden for two years.
"As soon as I started using cannabis, I gave them back
all the pills," Nunes said. "I started seeing how much
more effective this is than other drugs."
Nunes and his marijuana plants are at the center of what
appears to be a change in attitude among Tulare County law
enforcement agencies -- the result of a ruling by a federal
appeals court in December.
Visalia police raided Nunes' house in September and, Nunes
says, removed 18 marijuana plants and tools he used to process
Nunes said he showed officers his two recommendation cards
that identify him as a legitimate user of medical marijuana.
"When they realized I wasn't a drug dealer but a
patient, their attitude changed," he said. "I tried to
help them understand what was going on here and it was a legit
Even then, he said, "They uprooted all my plants. They
destroyed all of it. They took all my medicinal tools. I had
enough medicine that would have lasted me until the next
Three months later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San
Francisco said people who use marijuana on the advice of a
doctor are exempt from federal laws that ban the substance if
they grow their own or get it free.
It was the latest in a series of state and federal court
rulings in the wake of a voter initiative -- Proposition 215,
passed in 1996 -- which granted the right under state law to use
marijuana for medicinal purposes. Federal drug authorities
claimed federal law prevailed but lost that argument before the
appeals court in December. The issue is now before the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Tulare County District Attorney's
Office decided not to file charges against Nunes, and last week
the police department returned his tools, but not his marijuana
plants, which it said were destroyed.
Visalia police Sgt. Ed Lynn, newly placed in charge of the
department's narcotics squad, says he didn't participate in the
Nunes raid. He says he's helping develop a department policy on
handling medical marijuana cases.
Department spokesman Sgt. Shawn Delaney said in the past
three months, there have been three other medical marijuana
"In one case, 59 plants were seized. The district
attorney has filed charges in this case, and it is pending in
court," he said. "The other two cases, they appeared
to be legitimate medical marijuana cases. They were checked out,
and nothing was seized and no complaint was sent to the District
Deputy District Attorney Carol Turner said when the District
Attorney's Office receives a marijuana case where the defendant
claims to have a valid recommendation, she said it will also
investigate whether the recommendation is valid.
Proposition 215 said physicians could recommend their
patients use marijuana if they believe it is necessary.
Federal authorities, however, threatened to seek revocation
of medical licenses in cases where doctors recommended marijuana
use for their patients. A federal appeals court decision in
October 2002 blocked attempts to punish doctors, ruling they
violated both doctors' First Amendment rights and the
Subsequently, the California Medical Board informed doctors
that they would not risk their licenses if they recommend
marijuana in accordance with accepted standards of medical
These standards include obtaining the history of a patient,
performing an examination, developing a treatment plan,
consultation, record keeping and a periodic review.
Recommendations become invalid one year after the date they're
issued or if the card-holder is arrested for a non-cannabis
Dr. Claudia Jensen, Nunes' doctor and a medical marijuana
consultant, said she is "comforted" by the Medical
"They have the courage to do what's right, and that
what's so beautiful," she said.
Nunes says the cannabis dulls the pain in his back but,
unlike other medications, doesn't take it all away. He said with
some medications he wouldn't feel any pain and then over exert
himself, needing something stronger once the medication wore
"I still want to feel," he said. "[Cannabis]
just dulls the pain so I can go on with work without anything
holding me back. It's knowing you're still hurt and have
limitations but knowing you're not going to injure yourself.
It's knowing your limitations."
Nunes said he is impressed that Visalia police are
recognizing Proposition 215, even if it took them eight years to
"I want to help these officers as much as I can,"
he said. "I don't want to fight them; I want to help
Nunes and Lynn are working together to develop guidelines for
this area on how many plants are acceptable for a medical
marijuana patient and how officers can be better trained on how
to separate a medical marijuana patient from a drug dealer.
"I know they're doing their job," he continued.
"I just want them to do their job correctly."
Nunes has some remaining issues with the raid on his house --
the 18 plants that weren't returned. He says they were worth
Delaney said when live plants are seized, officers photograph
the plants, keep a sample and send the rest to a county site to
be destroyed. He said the department doesn't have enough room to
Note: DA's Office won't press case
against pain victim.
Source: Tulare Advance-Register (CA)
Author: Heidi Rowley, Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Copyright: 2004, Tulare Advance-Register
Contact: [email protected]