Farrell free to grow again

Butte County medical-marijuana activists were jumping up and down on the steps of the courthouse Friday, May 30, after District Attorney Mike Ramsey decided not to press charges against former Chapmantown medical-cannabis grower Mike Farrell.

Local med-pot activist Kim Shields said the decision not to prosecute Farrell represented a milestone in the Butte County medical-marijuana debate.

“We’re proud of our D.A. today for making the right call. He bit the bullet in this case,” Shields said, taking a rare opportunity to praise Ramsey, whom she and others have criticized in the past for his enforcement of Proposition 215, the 1996 state law that conditionally allows for the medical use of cannabis.

Farrell was arrested last year when Chico police took notice of his 18-plant garden, which included some 15-foot plants that were partially visible from the front of the residence. Farrell has a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis, but police believed he was in violation of Ramsey’s six-plant-per-garden limit. Farrell denied he was over the limit, saying that his plot was being grown for three users, not just for his own consumption. Guidelines for such “group grows” are vague, but in Butte County, a person designated as a “primary caregiver” to a medical user may not care for more than three patients at a time.

Reached by phone Friday, Ramsey said Farrell addressed many of his initial concerns, including the number of plants grown, the placement of the plants (which Ramsey called an “attractive nuisance” in the neighborhood) and the steps Farrell had taken to mitigate those problems.

“What is always challenging for law enforcement is determining [whether] this is for a person’s medical needs,” Ramsey said. “If it’s to support a marijuana lifestyle or to divert to the black market or to party with one’s friends, then that’s not within 215.”

Ramsey has been applauded and derided by people on both sides of the medical-marijuana debate. Last year he clashed with federal agents who ripped up a state-legal garden in Oroville (marijuana remains under federal prohibition) and also ran afoul of med-pot advocates who claimed he was unfairly prosecuting them. For his part, Ramsey has said he is making every attempt to uphold a vaguely worded state law that he believes was crafted with the intent eventually to legalize marijuana in California, an outcome he remains steadfastly against.

After his dismissal, Farrell, a father of two who uses cannabis to relieve phantom pain in his missing right arm, said he was thankful he would be able to spend the summer with his family instead of behind bars.

"I’m feeling wonderful. I thought I was going to be doing prison time," Farrell said, adding that, in his opinion, Ramsey had "come a long a way" in his thinking about the medical-marijuana issue.