Marijuana, is it natural medicine or a dangerous drug?
That's a question law enforcement has been struggling with since Proposition 215 passed in 1996. In recent years the line separating the two sides has continued to blur.
Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith has been dealing with marijuana since 1984, and has seen a lot change since the drug was legalized for medical use in the state.
After 16 years, the sheriff is still walking a fine line because marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
“I don't think there is a solution on the horizon,” Sheriff Jerry Smith said.
Sheriff Smith is currently part of a committee working to draft a medical marijuana ordinance to regulate the location and size of marijuana gardens in the county.
“It's difficult. You still want and need to provide the maximum level of public safety,” Smith said.
Weston Mickey is one of the people who fought to overturn Butte County's original medical marijuana ordinance that would have limited the number of plants based on property size.
After its defeat in June, the county went back to the drawing board this time asking for the input of marijuana advocates in the community.
“You absolutely need to have regulation. It's just reasonable regulation that we are looking for,” Weston Mickey said.
But, finding the middle ground when it comes to regulation is where the two sides struggle.
Law enforcement officials point to the danger gardens present to neighbors when criminals attempt to steal the plants around harvest time.
That was exactly the case in July when robbers broke into the wrong Chico house searching for marijuana, terrifying a family that was enjoying a quiet afternoon together.
“What you have other people and they are willing to take it and take it by force,” Smith said.
Dan Levine agrees that large grows are dangerous in neighborhoods, that's why he says large grows in rural areas are the safest choice.
“When it is done in a collective fashion in large parcels out in the agricultural areas you reduce a lot of that public safety kind of concern,” Dan Levine said.
Levine says the biggest obstacle he sees is law enforcement’s reluctance to protect patients when their marijuana is stolen.
“A big goal is to try and reform law enforcement at every level in the state to make them realize this is personal property, not evidence and this is a real medicine,” Levine said.
Sheriff Smith says he recognizes marijuana is personal property for those that grow it as medicine.
The problem he has is that in the past few years “profiteers” have been disguising their commercial grows as legitimate Proposition 215 gardens; even going as far as paying others to get recommendations so they can grow more plants and ship the crop back east.
“They'll pay you $4,500 up front for that. Then they'll grow and give you a checklist that if the sheriff comes to your door this is how you answer these questions,” Smith said.
Advocates like Mickey and Levine are just as concerned about the illegal element surrounding the medical marijuana industry. That's why they are hoping to find a system that can weed out those hoping to take advantage of Proposition 215.
“It is giving a bad name for people who donate to the community and want to help sick cancer patients. People that want to be a part of this progression,” Mickey said.
But law enforcement officials say as long as there is a profit to be made by selling marijuana out of the state, there will be criminals looking to exploit loopholes in the system. That makes it difficult for advocates to legitimize the industry.
“We just want to see medical marijuana turned into what it could be, not what people have turned it into,” Mickey said.
“I think until the United States of America decides what it is going to do with marijuana,” Smith said, “I think we, the locals, are going to be in limbo,” Smith said.