Merced County Sheriff says they're facing a drug dilemma

MERCED COUNTY, Calif.

Sheriff Mark Pazin believes many people in Merced County are abusing medical marijuana cards. But he says deputies are not arresting those suspects because it's extremely difficult to prosecute them.

Merced County Sheriff's Deputies served a search warrant at a home near Atwater Thursday for a case of suspected animal abuse. During the investigation they also found marijuana growing in a fenced-in area on the property, plus hundreds of pounds of unprocessed plants, and dozens of small bags of processed pot. But the deputies left all of it at the home and did not arrest anyone on drug charges because at least one person living there has a medical marijuana card.

Sheriff Pazin said, "It's ridiculous, and it causes us more work, but there's no way to legitimately arrest at this point at time."

Federal law still makes all marijuana illegal. But state law allows medical patients and their caregivers to grow and possess it. Sheriff Mark Pazin says his department is seeing more people take advantage of that by creating so-called "co-ops" so they can grow and sell huge quantities.

Sheriff Pazin said, "Law enforcement's paralyzed because these people who I think are just plain old crooks, selling the dope under the guise of medicine."

District Attorney Larry Morse agrees people are abusing the law and getting away with it. But he says the conflicting state and federal guidelines and limited resources make it nearly impossible for him to prosecute medical marijuana cases.

"We have a serious gang problem," said Morse. "We have more than 30 open homicides in Merced right now, and if I have to make decisions about how to allocate those resources I'm going to always focus first and foremost on the violent crime."

Morse is hoping for more clarity from the state and federal government on how to handle medical marijuana cases so they won't be a waste of time and money. In the meantime, Pazin says his deputies will have to let more suspected drug dealers go free.

Sheriff Pazin also says if deputies seize marijuana and charges are not filed, his department must return the drugs in their original form or reimburse the owner. And that's an expense his department can't afford.

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