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A Garden Grows In Oakdale
The marijuana plants behind the wire fence are cared for, so medicinal marijuana grower and user Delbert (last name withheld) is also careful to keep the rest of the area clean. His Medi-Cann paperwork is clearly visible, posted on the garden fence. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

In an area known for good soil and a climate for premiere farming, there lays a plot of thriving and meticulously tended to plants just off one of Oakdale’s main thoroughfares. The crop of choice for this urban gardener: medicinal marijuana and his own blend of “purple lush” and “cherry pie” varietals for a high-potency cannabis.

When driving onto the property with its shielding fences and “no trespassing” signs, you are immediately greeted by Delbert (last name withheld), 34, and his laid back but watchful pitbull terrier Buddy chained in the yard.

What are needed to grow a flourishing flower or vegetable garden – good soil, an irrigation system, sun exposure, and fertilizer – are the same things needed to cultivate marijuana and are in place for Delbert. The only thing differentiating this garden from tomato plants or another backyard crop is the posting of notices from the Medi-Cann Health Center labeling the plot as a medicinal grow site.

Delbert, who was injured in a motorcycle accident resulting in a broken shoulder and crushed ribs, followed by an industrial back injury from a garage door falling on him, consumes as much as two ounces of marijuana a day for the pain from his injuries. He is allowed to grow the marijuana in his “garden” due to the Compassionate Use Act law of Proposition 215 from 1996 where voters approved marijuana for medicinal use.

“It’s the most expensive garden in the county,” boasts Delbert of the more than 55 blossoming plants that are behind the fenced in area. “I have over $8,000 invested in this. Taking care of it is a fulltime job. It’s one thing or another between the work, the cops, and the thieves.”

The state has a varying approach toward enforcing marijuana laws. Although California’s law says the pharmaceutical ganja can be possessed and even grown with proper documentation as long as it’s not sold for a profit, marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Few cities in this area have approved medicinal marijuana dispensaries and federal officials have gone on record to say the dispensaries are often just fronts for illegal drug dealing.

In 2008, Oakdale joined Modesto, Riverbank, Ceres and Turlock in banning dispensaries fearing the city could become a magnet for criminal activity.

“They (police) keep trying to get me to comply with their orders,” said Delbert. “I show them I have all the right papers and there’s nothing they can do.”

Delbert also questioned that if it was illegal for his doctor to prescribe him therapeutic cannabis, why was his Medi-Cal covering 30 percent of his prescription.

District attorney’s officials believe a majority of the marijuana that is being grown in the Central Valley is destined for illegal distribution — not for clinics because of the Compassionate Use Act laws. In the last month alone, Stanislaus County drug agents conducted raids on pot fields in Modesto, Ceres, Riverbank, and Modesto, hacking down hundreds of plants.

Law enforcement officials provide evidence that growing marijuana is a criminal enterprise by the connection of those arrested with the “medicinal grows” and what they are possessing — guns, knives, other weapons, and often other drugs.

Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins said his department follows the allotments in the Compassionate Use Act when it comes to enforcement.

“If they have a medicinal card, we allow them to have a reasonable amount per the doctor’s orders on the prescription,” said Jenkins.

As part of his agriculture endeavor, Delbert, who has grown medicinal weed for the last six years, pointed out two larger plants he described as the “parents” of his “babies.” From the two larger plants Delbert gets the field of plants that he uses for his anticipated fall harvest.

“It started out with about 45 plants for me and 40 for my cousin who also has a prescription,” Delbert said.

He added that what he and his cousin don’t use; he sells to cannabis clubs in the Southern California and the Sacramento areas for $950 to $1500 per pound.

In addition to the threat from police and Mother Nature’s predators such as rodents, rabbits, and insects, Delbert has to protect his crop from the hazard of pillaging humans.

In some home invasion robberies, marijuana grows are often a key factor in the victim being targeted.

For Delbert’s garden, barbed wire lines the fencing and security cameras scan the area. At night, Buddy is allowed to roam.

“I lost two plants to thieves three weeks ago,” said Delbert. “I followed the trail to … (omitted).”

Delbert advocates the legalization of marijuana, saying the drug is harmless and police should not “harass citizens” who find marijuana as the only or best way to relieve severe or chronic pain.

“Medicinal marijuana is better than ibuprofen, Valium, Zoloft, or any other prescription drug,” claimed Delbert.