One Toke Over the Line

Heading up north to Utah for the Winter Olympics next year? Have fun, but be sure to leave the medical marijuana at home.

A night in jail taught Dennis Peron, drafter of California's Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana in 1996, that Utah doesn't take kindly to pot smokers. Utah is one of 41 states where marijuana -- prescribed or not -- is illegal. And Peron worries that with the Winter Olympics coming there may be more medical marijuana patients/Utah tourists suffering if they're not allowed to smoke.

"Cancer doesn't stop at the Utah border," says Peron, who was arrested in Cedar City. "Neither does illness, mental illness or multiple sclerosis. It happens in Utah and ... when (officials) hear my doctor tell how marijuana helped me, I think they'll quit. I believe this will be the impetus to change the law."

Peron says he uses marijuana to combat his alcoholism. "Anything that keeps me away from alcohol is good," he says. On Nov. 14, along with John Entwistle (who also smokes pot to combat alcoholism) and Kasey Conder (who uses it to alleviate depression), Peron pulled into a Motel 6 on their way to Zion National Park. When a desk clerk smelled marijuana smoke coming from their room, she called the police.

The police searched the hotel room and the men's cars. Peron says the cops found two to three ounces of pot, but police reports say that together the three men had a pound -- a weight Peron says must have included his pot-laced brownies. They also found rolling papers and $3,000 to $4,000 cash.

They were taken to jail for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell -- a felony. They were released the next day on $5,000 bail and will return to Utah for trial Dec. 11. They could face a sentence of 30 days to five years in prison.

Iron County Attorney Scott Burns says this is the first instance in his 15 years on the job that someone who was charged with marijuana possession has shown him a prescription for the drug. For him, the prescription means nothing.

"It's illegal to possess marijuana here. It's illegal to smoke marijuana here," he says. "He does not have any legitimate basis, in my opinion, to have it or to smoke it."

Though residents in California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Maine and Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia, have voted for the right to use medical marijuana, Burns says that doesn't change Utah's stance, no matter how close those states are in proximity.

"It is a crime in Utah. He does not have a prescription from a Utah doctor and his use or actions in California are irrelevant to Cedar City, Utah," he says.

Gina Palencar, spokeswoman for Americans for Medical Rights, the association that helped get medical marijuana on ballots in Nevada, says Peron's arrest is indicative of more problems yet to come because of inconsistent state laws.

"That's a problem right now, that there's no interstate recognition of these kinds of medical marijuana rights of patients," she says.

And federally, marijuana use and possession is still a crime.

"It's a reminder that we have patients in some states protected because (medical marijuana) laws passed, but we're still at an impasse in recognizing laws of medical marijuana patients in this country because of the way federal law is, and we won't see any solution to this until federal law changes."

Kate Silver is a staff writer at the Las Vegas Weekly and can be reached at silver@vegas.com.

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