Joined: May 14, 2004
Location: South FL
Mon Jun 07, 2004 9:34 am
UPPER LAKE IN AN UPROAR
UPPER LAKE - Quiet Upper Lake is fast becoming a town in turmoil. The pot, as they say, is on to boil. The "pot," they also say, is the reason.
Medical marijuana cannabis being issued from the First and Main Street office of Dr. Milan Hopkins has a number of factions at odds: two separate groups of the town's Main Street merchants and the medical marijuana camp.
The latter has been growing in Upper Lake. A cannabis store sits next to the post office. Another store sold cannabis pipes.
But the merchants didn't begin complaining until the long lines of people began gathering in front of Dr. Hopkins' small office to secure cannabis to alleviate their illness three days a week Monday through Wednesday. Cars with license plates from Oregon, Utah and around the state are taking the parking spots of potential customers, merchants complain. Some have also complained to Lake County Sheriff Rod Mitchell that people from outside the area litter, urinate on the sidewalk, shoplift and scare the beejeebers out of them.
Members of the medical marijuana faction, meanwhile, outwardly wonder why Lake County Sheriff Rod Mitchell and several deputies have been on the scene, questioning both the medical marijuana users and members of Hopkins' staff.
The crux of the problem is that the small building in which Hopkins practices has virtually no waiting space. He sees patients on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no appointments, so people begin jockeying for position at 10 a.m. in anticipation of Hopkins' 1 p.m. opening. Judging by the number of calls to the sheriff, not all have high standards of behavior.
Samples of how heated sentiments on each side are running could be observed in comments by Upper Lake businessman Tony Oliveira and cannabis grower Eddie Lepp.
Oliveira: "It's terrible. They're scaring our customers away. My wife and daughter go home and cry.
"I like the doc, but he's being very rude to his neighbors. They come into our ( antique ) store and steal stuff, they grabbed one lady by the throat, and they were swearing at a restaurant and got kicked out. A lady came back and took tips off the table."
Lepp: "I am just appalled. Somebody complained about people standing out in the street in front of ( Hopkins' ) office and the sheriff came out and started harassing these people. They wanted to know why they were there, what their illness is and why they need marijuana. Can somebody explain to me when that became a police officer's responsibility?"
But there is also a middle ground: merchants who are concerned about the effect Hopkins' patients are having, but supportive of him and at the same time adamant in saying Oliveira does not speak for them.
"Dr. Hopkins has been working hand-in-hand with the county and the Upper Lake redevelopment committee to insure that his business as well as other business continues to grow and develop," Linda Powell, the chairperson of the redevelopment committee, said in a written statement. "Any problems or complaints that have arisen are purely individual and do not represent the feelings of the Upper Lake business community.
"There have been a few concerns brought to the doctor's attention and he has been working to address those items," Powell's statement concluded.
The issues between the merchants and medical marijuana factions have created a dilemma for the sheriff's department. While Lepp complains about too much local law enforcement involvement, Oliveira says there isn't enough.
Record-Bee efforts to talk to Hopkins, himself, about the situation failed. But Charise Wilder, his secretary for the past five years, said Hopkins does far more health care-wise than make it possible for patients to obtain marijuana. "He does a free clinic on the first of each month," she said.
Regarding the sheriff, Wilder asserted: "Every morning we see ( deputies ) driving up and down the road and sometimes get out of their cars taking license plate numbers. And they're going up to patients and asking where they're coming from. Why they're taking down license plate numbers, l don't know. Maybe they're planning to stop them when they're a mile down the road or whatever."
Conversely, Oliveira says, "My son-in-law has been trying to talk to the feds, because the locals haven't been doing much. Rod Mitchell came once and patrolled for a couple of days."
A Record-Bee reporter who visited Upper Lake Tuesday spotted a female deputy patrolling the streets on foot.
"We are responding to the conduct of people who are waiting to be seen by Dr. Hopkins and/or waiting to try to acquire their medical marijuana," says Mitchell. "Conduct issues have prompted several merchants and citizens to call us and ask for assistance in dealing with it. I've had a grown woman in my lobby crying and saying, Please do something' with tears streaming down her face.
"We don't know how much is legitimate and how much is lore," Mitchell added, "so we're encouraging every business owner who witnesses a crime to call us. In essence, we are soliciting complaints. But instead of just waiting for that to happen, we have increased our uniformed patrol presence."
Wilder said that three deputies came into her office and asked a co-worker for a copy of the marijuana recommendation form issued by Hopkins.
"I said, Why?' She said, They just want to see what's going on,' and I said, It's really none of their business what form we use."'
Lepp takes pride in having the nation's largest medicinal pot acreage and has a case pending that charges the sheriff with unlawful destruction of some of his crop. So, where he is coming from on the issue is not surprising.
"What business is it of a sheriff's deputy why anybody stepped into a doctor's office?" he asked. "When did the sheriff become the medical review board? Why is the sheriff out there hassling patients in the street about what they're doing in Upper Lake?"
To which Mitchell responded: "Our deputies do not practice medicine. No citizens ever have made a complaint to me saying our deputies have been inappropriate. And we have never asked to see confidential information. We asked ( to see the marijuana recommendation form ) so we can show our staff what is being used and to suspect anything else. The form is posted on our briefing wall right now. But we saw a generic form that didn't have any patient information on it."
Mitchell's assessment that the situation surrounding Dr. Hopkins' office "is having a visible impact on the Upper Lake community" is difficult to refute. In such a small community, one incident of shoplifting can generate fear of dozens more. One apprehensive antique store owner called upon the Ladies Protective Society, an organization dating to the 1920s.
"She asked us to come in and act like customers because there had been so many strangers coming into her store and she had things shoplifted," said society member Doris Harville. "We just sat there a couple of hours with her.
"It's just ruining our town."
Wilder talked about how two young men who came to the clinic wound up beating on a merchant with their skateboards for telling them to quit skate boarding.
"Since then, it's been, Marijuana's bad and we don't want them around here,"' she said. "I guess the whole deal is that some townspeople in Upper Lake don't like the crowd. They're afraid of a mob situation or something."
Mitchell said there are additional plans to ensure the quality of life in Upper Lake through law enforcement, but they do not include a raid on Dr. Hopkins' office. He followed with this personal message to Lepp:
"I would be happy to say to Eddie, Eddie, this isn't about marijuana. The issue is about what they're doing while they're waiting to see Dr. Hopkins."'
Pubdate: Fri, 28 May 2004
Source: Lake County Record-Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Record-Bee
Author: John Lindblom
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal)