It is as clear as day, or perhaps night. For certain, the laws of marijuana distribution in the county stand clearly in the fog. It is legal to have a license to smoke, grow, prescribe, donate and deliver marijuana. But it is illegal to dispense marijuana. Confused? So are local medical marijuana delivery services.

“Everyone is like a deer in the headlight,” said Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Bruce Margolin. Margolin served as an adviser for the California Compassionate Use Act, the medicinal marijuana initiative also known as Prop. 215, and has represented marijuana defendants nationwide, including in Ventura County. “The law is very unresolved. Cops don’t know the law; the D.A. doesn’t know the law; and the law still hasn’t been decided by the court of appeals.”

Operating under the provisions of the Compassionate Use Act, delivery services in the county have been running nonprofit cooperatives for the past several years with only minor hitches. But recently, local law enforcement has decided that delivery services are delivery dispensaries, and since dispensaries are banned in Ventura County, delivering marijuana is in violation of the law.

“Dispensaries are not legally permitted, and they are a mobile dispensary,” said Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney. “It is an illegal sale of marijuana to have a delivery.”

But another police officer said the recent crackdown on marijuana delivery is because too many services are working for profit, when all operations need to function as nonprofit.

Regardless of the correct interpretation of the law, patients relying on delivery services are hit hardest by the delivery crackdown. Because of the sensitivity surrounding the subject, a patient of a local delivery service asked not to be identified, but expressed frustration toward police intervening in what has helped ease her chronic back pain and nausea.

But Capt. Derek West of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department is tired of the excuses.

“If that is the situation for them, they can find a legitimate caregiver,” said West. “This is big business with lots of greed and money behind it. I’ve been in law enforcement for 31 years and this is what it is. Big money.”

Outside the county, the fight continues as the medical marijuana laws concerning profit and nonprofit services are soon to be up for debate. A landmark medical marijuana case in Los Angeles County began Wednesday, June 23. The registered medical marijuana dispensary Nature’s Natural Cooperative Care has been brought to trial for allegedly using patient reimbursements as for-profit sales, instead of donations.

Legal uncertainty has stirred a great amount of fear, causing a number of local marijuana collectives and delivery services to temporarily shut down operations.

Speaking anonymously, an operator of a state-approved nonprofit Ventura County medical marijuana delivery service described how his nonprofit organization functioned.

“Nonprofit means the grower donates the marijuana to me. I supply it to the patient and say ‘thank you for your donation.’ They fill out our papers to join our collective. I donate the money back to the grower. Whatever is leftover comes back to me, and we’re allowed to draw a salary.”

The salaries, he said, are used primarily to operate the collective. But after the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department arrested two Thousand Oaks residents, Fabian Citaro, 32, and Amanda Citaro, 30, the operators of Mary Jane’s Bud on suspicion of operating a drug distribution business, he panicked.

“I dissolved my cds and took all the money out of my accounts, figuring we also might get raided,” said the anonymous source. “I don’t know why they are doing this now. The only reason I can think of is they’re doing this to get someone into the court system, get attorneys and spend money. Most of this stuff is always dropped.”

Phone calls to Cherryl Temple, a Ventura County senior deputy district attorney, were not returned. But Margolin said many have gone with an interpretation of the law, rather than the black letter of the law. He said that within the California Senate Bill 420, Health and Safety Code 11362.71, it states that “no person or designated primary caregiver in possession of a valid identification card shall be subject to arrest for possession, transportation, delivery, or cultivation of medical marijuana in an amount pursuant to this article, unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the information contained in the card is false or falsified, that the card has been obtained by means of fraud, or the person is otherwise in violation of the provisions of this article.”

But the term “primary caregiver” has also produced a gray area for police officials and the courts.

Margolin has said that “neither statute nor case law specifies how to designate someone as a primary caregiver. There is no requirement that it be in writing.”

But Corney disagrees. “The primary caregiver should be providing care for this person for ongoing 24-hour supervision,” said Corney. “They should be taking care of the person’s well being. It doesn’t mean dropping off marijuana once a week. But somebody arrested could possibly use it as a defense. Leave it up to courts.”   

shane@vcreporter.com