Crane’s list

When voters passed Proposition 215, the medical-marijuana initiative, in 1996, they enacted a vaguely worded law that allowed some sick people to use cannabis but didn’t provide many details as to how those in law enforcement would keep track of who is legally using the drug and who isn’t. In Butte County and across the state, that condition has led to countless incidents in which medical-marijuana patients have been arrested, raided or had their medicine seized, often only to be vindicated in court after lengthy and expensive ordeals.

Since Sept. 11 of this year, a bill has been parked on the governor’s desk that would create a statewide registry for medical-cannabis users, with public health departments issuing ID cards for qualified patients. But with the political situation in California being what it is, there isn’t a lot of hope that the bill (aptly titled SB 420) will be signed anytime soon.

So one local law enforcement agent has decided to do what he considers the next best thing. Sid Crane, a special investigator for the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, has begun compiling his own list of local medical-marijuana patients. Crane said his unofficial registry will help protect patients from unnecessary raids and assist them in complying with county growing guidelines.

“It’s simply an inventory, if you will, of all the [patients] I’ve dealt with in Butte County,” Crane said. “It is a resource for me, but it’s also for their protection. It allows law enforcement to know that this person’s motives are within the law.”

Crane, who works out of the Sheriff’s Office on a “two-man task force” investigating marijuana, said he is simply trying to sort out who, among the hundreds of small-scale growers and pot users in the county, has a legal excuse for doing so.

“Ever since [Prop. 215] came down, there’s been this adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the public,” Crane said. “[But] Prop. 215 isn’t going to go away. The bottom line is I don’t have any agenda. What we’re doing is just documenting the people we come in contact with. That information stays in our file.”

Patients and their advocates aren’t sure what to think about Crane and his list.

“In some ways it’s really good, and in some ways it’s really bad,” said Dinah Coffman, director of Butte Alliance for Medical Marijuana. “I think the cops should know who the patients are, so they don’t go out and bust them. But then if they don’t like you they could just have you busted anyway.”

The issue comes down to trust. With patients getting ripped off left and right by opportunistic thieves, many say law enforcement is not doing enough to protect them. In some cases, police have been called out to investigate the theft of a patient’s plants only to end up confiscating more of that same patient’s medicine. Incidents such as those have not helped the already shaky relationship between law enforcement and medical-marijuana advocates.

“If Sid Crane wants to have his little list that’s OK, but he needs to protect us too,” Coffman said.

Some patients contacted for comment also worried that Crane will turn his list over to federal agencies, which do not recognize Prop. 215 as the law. Crane denies that is his intent, saying that his only aim is to enforce state law and promote existing county guidelines.

Other patient advocates groups are tentatively embracing the list. Darren Courtney, director of Paradise-based Butte County Medical Cannabis Project, first met Crane when he showed up at Courtney’s house wanting to see his marijuana garden. Courtney still doesn’t know how Crane found out about him, and Crane is not in a position to reveal his methods. After inspecting Courtney’s recommendation and garden, Crane did something unusual, Courtney said. He gave Courtney the name and phone number of a Paradise med-pot patient who was in need of help to start his own garden. Courtney was suspicious at first but eventually did make contact with the patient. Since then, Courtney said, his group has been able to give marijuana cuttings—small, living plants—to select patients. He doesn’t tell patients to register with Crane but lets them know that they have that option.

Crane disputes Courtney’s account of how it got started but does admit that he has, on several occasions, given Courtney’s number to people who have called him with concerns about how to grow marijuana within Prop. 215 guidelines. He said he isn’t sure what kind of support the project is providing to patients, but that he does keep up contact with those on his list to monitor their compliance with the law. Although state law doesn’t recognize any limits to how much marijuana a bona-fide patient can possess, the county guidelines suggest no more than six mature plants and one pound of cured marijuana per patient. If patients are unable to grow for a medical reason, they may appoint a caregiver to grow for them. There is no provision for patients who are simply not good with plants.

Many patients either want a legal distribution site or a “cooperative grow” system that would ensure them safe access to marijuana. But neither idea has much support from local law enforcement. So until the state passes a clearer law or the county comes up with a brilliant medical-marijuana distribution scheme, Crane will continue to compile his list.

""I’m not here saying I agree or disagree with it," Crane said. "The law is the law, and we have to work within it."