Authorities: Doctors share blame for medical marijuana violence
TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Law enforcement in the South Valley is busier than ever tackling crime associated with medical marijuana grows. But investigators aren't just blaming the suspects.
Deputies now say the doctors issuing medical recommendations for marijuana -- are just as much responsible for some of the crimes - as the suspects themselves.
In 2011 the Tulare County Sheriff's Office investigated 20 homicides. Nearly half -- eight of them -- were related to medicinal marijuana.
Lt. Tom Sigley: "People think that because there's medical grows there there's gonna be cash there there's gonna be processed marijuana for the taking."
On September 5th, deputies found a man shot to death next to medical marijuana grow near Dinuba. Investigators say he was hired to tend to the marijuana plants.
On October 12th, deputies say a man in Strathmore was shot and killed by a person trying to steal medical pot from the property.
Weeks later two brothers were shot and killed in Pixley when a fight broke out at a building where medical marijuana was being processed.
Detectives say medical marijuana is causing an upkick in crime.
Lt. Tom Sigley: "It's increased it significantly I would say about a third if not more."
Tulare County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Tom Sigley says in all cases -- marijuana was being grown out of county compliance. Doctors can't give out a prescription for marijuana, but they can "recommend" patients take a certain amount.
Sigley and other law enforcement officers believe doctors issuing these so-called "recommends" to criminals-share some of the responsibility for the crimes related to medical pot.
Lt. Tom Sigley: "The intent of this law was glaucoma for serious pain and for cancer patients. We're not seeing that. What we're seeing is these doctors are giving it for asthma."
Action News spoke with a recovering marijuana addict who did not want to be identified. She says she went to a doctor known for giving out medical marijuana recommendations.
"She just filled out the paper and stuff and I paid her the money it was really easy."
In less than twenty minutes she had a medical recommend for marijuana. Her diagnosis -- stress. She said she didn't need the marijuana for medical purposes.
"I got it because like if I get pulled over or anything and I have bud with me ok I could use it I won't get in trouble."
This woman says the doctor charged her $95 dollars for a recommend of six marijuana plants. She says she could have gotten more, for a price.
"If I wanted 50 I would pay $25 extra if I wanted 100 I would pay $40 extra."
Action News tried to talk to the doctor at a crowded medical marijuana clinic in Visalia. He refused. The person who answered the phone said the doctor is following the law.
Law enforcement says doctors issuing recommends for pot are protected by the state's law- proposition 215 states: "To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction."
Sigley and Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson say the doctors are running a cash operation, fetching anywhere from $100 to $250 per patient.
Sheriff Robinson: "As word spreads thru the groups that are looking for those recommendations those doctors are going to see big business."
Last year Kings County Deputies found a one-acre grow site at a house, just 12-hundred yards away from a school. Sheriff Robinson says the couple had a medical recommend for 99 marijuana plants and were selling the marijuana, which is illegal.
Sheriff Robinson: "When the doctor sees a patient one time and issues a recommendation that they need to grow 99 plants there's something wrong with our system."
The Director of California NORML-a medical marijuana advocacy group-said he supports California's medical marijuana law but believes there should be more regulations put in place to hold doctors accountable.
Dale Gieringer: "There are no medical guidelines for relating plant numbers to patient needs and uh we think it's unethical to mislead consumers into thinking those recommendations are valid."
The violence related to medical marijuana in Kings County isn't nearly as prevalent as it is in Tulare County still deputies in both parts of the South Valley say doctors issuing medical recommends for marijuana play a key role in influencing crime.
Lt. Tom Sigley: "It's turned into a business for these people and they're abusing it for the ones who really need it."
Investigators are urging state medical boards to review the practices of doctors known to issue medical marijuana recommendations. So far, no doctors have been reprimanded.
medical marijuana, local, jessica peres
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