CARSON CITY -- Medical marijuana advocates testified Monday that a bill prescribing prison sentences for growing more than seven marijuana plants will prevent sick people from getting their "medicine."
"This bill would send many patients to prison," testified Pierre Werner, a former medical marijuana patient who spent 19 months in prison.
Under current law, the sentence for growing marijuana for sale depends on the pounds of marijuana grown. Senate Bill 262 targets medical marijuana card holders and bases their sentence on the number of plants they are growing.
Medical marijuana patients can grow up to seven plants if they hold a card from the state Health Division. Nevada voters in 2000 approved a ballot measure to allow medical marijuana for people with illnesses who have a doctor's authorization to use the drug.
The proposed measure states a medical marijuana patient with eight or more plants would be considered as having "prima facie evidence" of cultivating marijuana for purpose of sale.
Having one to 25 plants in excess of the allowed limit would be a felony punishable by one to six years in prison. Harsher sentences would apply according to how many plants the patient possessed.
A patient with 500 or more marijuana plants in excess of the allowed amount could be sentenced to three to 15 years in prison and fined as much as $100,000.
During the hearing, witnesses said police exaggerate the amount of usable marijuana that each plant can produce.
"Most plants are grown indoors," marijuana advocate Michael McCullough told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They are lucky to get 1 or 2 ounces per plant."
But he said police will state a single plant produces a pound or two of marijuana.
After the hearing, Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, said she did not intend to target legitimate medical marijuana users.
She introduced the bill at the request of Las Vegas police, who told her they were concerned a "drug cartel" might be cultivating pot in Nevada for purposes of sale.
"My intent is to get those doing it for profit," she said.
"I am a cancer survivor," Copening added. "I know a lot of people who have medical marijuana licenses smoke it to induce an appetite. I understand the need for these patients. It also is necessary for some for pain management."
During the hearing, Werner said the bill should be changed to allow patients to grow as many as 99 plants. He said patients need a 24-ounce supply every 90 days.
"It is ridiculous to expect people on chemotherapy to grow their own medicine," he added. "We need a system where they can buy it. Charge a $50 per ounce tax, and it would bring in millions for Nevada."
He backed a medical marijuana clinic system such as the one in California, where patients can buy several varieties of marijuana.
A total of 564 people have permits to use medical marijuana, according to the state Health Division.
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