Tuesday, May 23, 2006 • Jury will hear evidence of Ziegler’s medical marijuana patient, caregiver status; lawsuit against city dismissed without explanation

Publisher’s note: These stories originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 23, 2006, edition of the Lassen County Times.

When a Susanville man is tried for cultivating marijuana, the jury will hear evidence that he was a patient and a primary caregiver under California’s medical marijuana law.

At a Friday, May 19 dispositional conference and hearing to determine admissibility of evidence, Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradbury denied prosecutor Dean Archibald’s motion to exclude defense evidence. Public defender David Marcus claims Timothy Ziegler, 45, was both a patient and a primary caregiver under the state’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, or California’s Proposition 215.

Law enforcement seizes Timothy Ziegler’s marijuana plants.

Lassen County Narcotics Task Force officers seized about 100 marijuana plants when they arrested Ziegler in September 2004.

Bradbury said the issue was one of law, not whether anyone agreed with patients growing and using marijuana. Ziegler testified that half a dozen people with doctor’s recommendations came to his cooperative to receive marijuana Ziegler obtained in the Bay Area. Bradbury ruled the defense made a sufficient showing that Ziegler was a primary caregiver.

Archibald argued that simply providing marijuana did not meet the provisions of Health and Safety Code section 11362.5 and 11362.7, the state’s medical marijuana statutes. The code sections define a primary care provider as someone who assumes responsibility for the health of another.

Bradbury said patients see doctors, surgeons, dentists and eye doctors for various needs.

“It would be rare to have, in the world of medicine, a health care provider who does it all,” Bradbury said, adding many specialists assume responsibility for patients’ health.

At the hearing on Friday, Dr. William Toy, who has an office in Grass Valley, testified that he gave Ziegler a temporary recommendation for use of medical marijuana on Dec. 20, 2004, because Ziegler suffered neck and back pain due to an industrial accident in which a wall fell on him.

Toy’s recommendation expired three months later. He gave Ziegler a second three-month recommendation on Oct. 13, 2004.

Ziegler claims primary-caregiver status according to Health and Safety Code section 11362.5 and 11362.7, the state’s medical marijuana provisions. However, the prosecution claims Ziegler had no documentation or names of qualified patients.

Ziegler, who also faces four dog violation charges and two charges of driving with a suspended license, remains free from custody after promising to appear in court.

Responding to a question from Archibald, Toy said Ziegler’s medical marijuana recommendation expired in December 2004 and after that the patient was no longer authorized to use medical marijuana.

Bradbury set a further dispositional conference for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13.

Timothy Ziegler checks on his plants in a grow room in a dispensary he operated in the old Highway Patrol building in Susanville.

Local medical marijuana users dismiss suit against city

Two local residents and a patient’s advocacy group dismissed their medical marijuana lawsuit against the city of Susanville last week.

According to Lassen County Superior Court records, the suit was dismissed on Tuesday, May 16. Ziegler, Robin Rust and Americans for Safe Access filed the suit on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, charging the city’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries illegally restricted the rights of patients and their doctors.

“The city will continue to enforce its ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and maintain a safe community for our residents,” according to a press release issued from the city’s administrative office on May 16.

The suit filed in Lassen County’s Superior Court by local attorney David Williams claimed, “Plaintiff Timothy Ziegler is a qualified medical marijuana patient who took steps toward forming a medical marijuana collective in accordance with California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5 and 11362.775 …

“The city of Susanville’s rigid policy of banning all medical marijuana collectives deprives qualified medical marijuana patients of the medicine promised them by the Compassionate Use Act … ,” it said, “thereby causing them wholly unnecessary suffering and pain.”

Repeated calls to Williams for comment on the reasons for dismissing the lawsuit produced no response.

Police Chief Chris Gallagher told the City Council, at its meeting on July 6, 2005, he did not want to stop people who have prescriptions for medical marijuana from using the drug, but he wanted to make sure no distribution centers are set up in Susanville.

In July 2005, Gallagher said there were about 62 patients in Lassen County and Susanville who used prescribed marijuana.

“I am not trying to deter folks who can have marijuana for medicine but I want to keep store front facilities from the city that could attract a nuisance or criminal element,” Gallagher said.

Councilmember Doug Sayers said the city does not need dispensaries and it is the council’s obligation to protect young people and children.

The suit also claimed Ziegler and Rust have to resort to buying marijuana on the black market or suffer.

The plaintiffs requested a jury trial and asked the court to declare Susanville Municipal Code Section 17.04.110 unlawful and unconstitutional. Besides costs and attorney fees, the plaintiffs also asked for further relief the court deemed just and proper.

ASA’s Web site safeaccessnow.org stated, “permanently banning dispensing is an unacceptable option to providing safe access to medical marijuana.” As a result, ASA filed three lawsuits against cities with permanent bans: Concord, Pasadena, and Susanville.

“Each lawsuit includes a prospective dispensary operator plaintiff and a patient plaintiff. The lawsuits were filed symbolically with a press conference on Oct. 6, the day that California’s civic officials across the state met as the League of Cities in San Francisco,” the Web site said.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on marijuana trumps any state laws allowing its use, including California’s Proposition 215, which permits marijuana use for medical purposes.

To complicate things further the U.S. Supreme Court on June 6, 2005, decided the federal government may prosecute people who use homegrown marijuana. It said state medical marijuana laws don’t protect users from a federal ban on the drug.

California’s Attorney General subsequently issued an opinion saying, “The Supreme Court didn’t say anything about mandating local and state officials to enforce federal law.” The attorney general concluded local and state officials should not enforce federal marijuana laws.