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Pot Advocate Quizzes Police on Medical Marijuana Laws
By KRISTIE CATTAFI, The Record
CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — Edward “Lefty” Grimes was in pain.
It had been an hour since he’d arrived at the Clifton police station with what should have been a straightforward question: Where could he legally smoke his medical marijuana? One officer on duty knew, but he was out on an assignment and couldn’t be reached.
Meanwhile, Grimes, who suffers from back pain after a fall at work forced him to undergo multiple spine surgeries, was starting to hurt. He debated: Should he light up, and risk getting arrested? Or should he wait for the officer to return?
He decided to wait. Finally, more than an hour after Grimes first arrived, Lt. Favio Toyas returned. You can smoke outside by the ashtrays, he told Grimes after checking his patient identification card, apologizing for the delay.
“They don’t run into this every day,” Toyas said of his fellow officers.
But for Grimes, a self-styled medical marijuana advocate from East Hanover, it’s a scene he knows all too well.
In the past four years, Grimes has visited more than 70 police departments across the state in an effort to educate officers about the guidelines for enforcing New Jersey‘s medical marijuana law. In encounters that he films and later posts to YouTube, police are generally civil but often do not know the guidelines or — in some cases — that medical cannabis is even legal in New Jersey.
“We’re here to educate police so patients don’t get arrested,” said Grimes. “Unless an officer takes it upon himself to do the research, they don’t know the law.”
This is particularly concerning now, says advocates, because Gov. Phil Murphy and other state leaders are pushing to not only legalize recreational marijuana but also patients’ access to New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana program.
Murphy has ordered a review of the program, including how dispensary licenses are obtained, the allowable medical conditions and the various ways that medical marijuana can be ingested.
“Right now there are lines at dispensaries and they can’t fulfill our needs,” Grimes said. “If it’s going to be legal, we need to worry about cannabis patients’ rights first.”
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey has also called on the state to approve an additional 43 ailments for which patients can be treated with marijuana.
About 15,000 people are eligible to receive medical marijuana in New Jersey — far lower, says Murphy, than the number of patients in states like Michigan, which has a comparable population. If the coalition’s list, which is under review, is approved, that number would grow, says executive director Ken Wolski.
“With a planned expansion, now is the time to look at training for police,” said Wolski. “Police should be made aware of the rights of patients in New Jersey.”
Grimes, 50, is an unlikely advocate. Though he sometimes wears suits and ties, he has also been known to sport T-shirts proclaiming, “Don’t shoot me, I’m white,” or “I’m recording you.” Around his neck hangs a camera, which he tucks beneath his long, wavy hair. He’s also known to have a cane in his left hand, which is how he got the nickname Lefty.
Grimes says he was inspired to act after attending a town hall hosted by then-Gov. Chris Christie.
Medical marijuana patients in New Jersey can smoke anywhere tobacco can be smoked in public.
But at the town hall, Grimes — who medicates every three hours for his back pain — said he asked a state police trooper where he could legally smoke cannabis. Rather than direct him to an appropriate location, Grimes said the officer threatened to arrest him if he lit up.
This encounter, says Grimes, occurred in 2014 — four years after medical marijuana was legalized in New Jersey and two years after the state Attorney General’s Office issued guidelines to police outlining how they should enforce the state’s program.
“After that we started to go to police departments to see if they all thought the same,” Grimes said.
The result has been what Grimes calls the “Ignorance is No Excuse Tour,” a series of videos posted to YouTube that show him and other patients approaching police around the state. Often, he will walk up to a desk officer, identify himself as a medical marijuana patient and ask where can legally smoke pot to medicate.
Reactions vary, from officers initially looking baffled to offering him — as happened in Mahwah — space in the station’s lobby to roll a joint. In a couple of instances, he says, he has been threatened with arrest or blatantly ignored.
While police have been quicker to respond to him since he began his effort, he says on average he still waits about 20 minutes for an officer to answer him.
The problem, says advocates, is that while some officers may have been trained in the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, or CUMMA, enforcement guidelines, there is no requirement that they receive this instruction.
They could not provide specific figures, but Grimes and other advocates say they are aware of medical marijuana patients who have been arrested by officers who were not familiar with the law.
Most of the time, the charges are dropped, unless the patient is found to be in possession of more marijuana than is allowed under state law or was smoking in an unauthorized location, according to the group Americans for Safe Access.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey has called for training for all state, county and local law enforcement officers.
The state and Bergen County Policemen’s Benevolent Associations did not return requests for comment.
But a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office dismissed calls for police training.
“The Office of the Attorney General is not aware of concerns pertaining to the knowledge or enforcement of these guidelines that would necessitate training for law enforcement officers at this time,” said Sharon Lauchaire, the office’s acting communications director.
As he continues to advocate for training, a new front in Grimes’ fight has emerged in recent months.
The debate over legalizing recreational marijuana has prompted some municipal officials to pre-emptively introduce or adopt bans on marijuana retail sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights and Garfield councils adopted bans in February, while Ramsey’s council chose instead to limit sales to certain areas of town. Hawthorne is expected to vote on a ban on March 21.
These new restrictions have led Grimes to attend council meetings, where he has implored local officials to consider the patients he says will be affected by these bans.
“There are sick people in town that you don’t see,” he recently told the Garfield City Council. “They need dispensaries in town. Why would you want sick people to jump through more hoops?”
Currently there are five medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, with a sixth on the way.
Garfield’s ban doesn’t specifically address medical marijuana, but the city’s mayor disagrees that a dispensary should be allowed. If patients need cannabis to treat their ailments, they can go to another town to buy it, he argues.
“I don’t want to bring drugs into the heart of Garfield,” Mayor Richard Rigoglioso said.
But Grimes argues cannabis can help patients.
Christian Velasquez, 25, of Dover, who joined Grimes when he recently visited the Clifton police department, credits the drug with allowing him to live a “normal and productive life.”
With the help of marijuana, Valasquez, who also suffers from a back injury, said he was able to complete school and now goes to work every day.
Grimes himself has benefited from cannabis.
For 10 years, he says, he used opioids to treat his pain. It wasn’t until he started using marijuana that he was able to wean himself off the medications, he said.
“I was in incredible pain and it got me off drugs,” Grimes said. “Marijuana helps a lot of people get off pharmaceuticals.”
The recent backlash to legalization, then, has him concerned.
“Towns are on a banning spree right now,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much ignorance in my life.”
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com
SEASIDE HEIGHTS — A contingent of medical marijuana patients is pushing Seaside Heights officials to let them light up on the boardwalk where tobacco smokers do.
Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said the borough council would consider the request of Edward “Lefty” Grimes and his two friends who had a civil encounter with police officers on Saturday and then took their issue to the borough council meeting on Wednesday.
In videos recorded of both events and posted to his Facebook page, Grimes, a self-proclaimed educator of New Jersey’s medical marijuana laws, said he’s been to about 60 towns across the state to explain to local officials the rights of medical marijuana patients.
Grimes and two friends were approached by Seaside Heights police officers on Saturday when Michelle Burns tried to light up a marijuana joint while they were sitting in a designated smoking area on the boardwalk on Saturday.
Burns has multiple sclerosis and uses marijuana to ease her symptoms, Grimes tells the officers.
In the video, the officers cordially explains to them that while that area is set aside for smokers, it doesn’t mean smokers of marijuana – even if they have a medical marijuana card.
They’d have to go off the boardwalk, preferably to the privacy of their own vehicles, to smoke, the officers tell them.
Grimes, an East Hanover resident, says the state’s medical marijuana laws allow them to smoke wherever tobacco smokers do. The officers say that’s not their understanding of the law and that until the town gets clarification from a higher law enforcement agency, it’s sticking with its position banning smoking of marijuana on the boardwalk.
At the council meeting, the borough attorney said officials were within their right to ban the smoking of medical marijuana there because the boardwalk is considered a recreation center – one of the places exempt from the law.
“That is not to say there can’t be alteration of the rules,” the borough attorney said. “It is something that will be considered.”
Ignorance Is No Excuse Tour in the News
Ignorance Is No Excuse Tour: Seaside Heights Council Meeting
Police Give Back Stolen Marijuana
Written by: Severin
On 12/2/16 I received a live stream alert from Edward Grimes aka Lefty. He was at the Bayonne police department in New Jersey.
Over the last few years New Jersey has had to make a major adjustment in their tactics. The legalization of medical marijuana has led to departments filled with staff members that are used to taking everyone’s weed and even arresting them.
Lefty is no stranger to the transition. He has spearheaded a campaign called the “Ignorance Is No Excuse” Tour. He is taking the fight for the right to smoke straight to each department along his route.
Armed with the “Sativa Cross Podcast” he is getting the word out (sometime live) that marijuana is no longer a crime in the state of New Jersey.
The sad thing is, despite Lefty’s bold and even funny efforts, many departments are still confiscating Marijuana from patients.
Such was the case in the live stream I was alerted to today. Lefty was accompanying a medical patient to a local police department to try to get her property back. This was not the first time there. In fact the woman he is helping has been there over a dozen times. Since Lefty’s involvement they had returned to the station nearly a handful of times alone.
That did not stop either of them. It would seem that it had not brought their spirits down either. They were in the waiting room throughout the whole encounter laughing.
After a short time the police Lieutenant in charge of evidence came out to greet them. She immediately asked for the “tag” that comes with all medical marijuana purchases.
You see only certain places are allowed to sell the Marijuana. These places charge a huge premium compared to street prices. The difference is extremely high with street value of an ounce being no more than $300 and dispensaries charging over $500. It would seem the government is more greedy than even the street dealers were.
Back to the police station, the woman did not have the sales proof since it had been months ago. She quickly asks for the date so she can go to her dispensary and get the proof. She was ready to yet again leave and come back the next day.
That’s when a possible Christmas miracle happened. The Grinches heart grew 3 sizes that day…..
But seriously the cop said “forget it I’ll just get it”. Maybe it had been the dozen visits. Maybe it had been the woman’s obvious disability. Maybe it was just a really good day for the cop. The officer calls the woman into the back. She even gives the woman a hug before sending her on her way with her bag and weed.
The duo did not wait to celebrate. The stepped outside the police department and lit right up in front of the doors. They even gave a thumbs up wave to cop that was sitting to a motorcycle right in front of them. He was not so friendly, giving a snark look and driving off.
This was a success. This gives me hope. If a state as strict as New Jersey can become more relaxed, perhaps there is hope for my state of Pennsylvania.
Be sure to visit Sativacross.com for all of Lefty’s work.
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Who’s the bigger douche?