- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

LAS VEGAS

Pierre Werner is a capitalist, a felon and a groundbreaker. The 31-year-old sees a market need for medical marijuana here and plans on filling it.

“And if I have to sit in jail for six months in order to set a precedent case on compassionate care, I will,” says Mr. Werner, who was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in New Jersey.

Nevada voters in 2000 agreed that medical marijuana should be allowed, although the state legislature, charged with hammering out the details of such a plan, did not implement a method to distribute the herb, which federal officials still consider a crime to grow and sell.

This omission is intentional. “We didn’t want to risk what has happened in California with the federal government raiding the cannabis clubs,” said Chris Giunchigliani, a Nevada lawmaker who helped write the state’s medical-marijuana law.

Other states — including Maryland and Oregon — have done the same thing, wary of a Justice Department that has aggressively arrested medical-pot providers in California.

“This legislation in Maryland is silent on distribution,” says state Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who helped carry his state’s medical bill. “We know that we can’t stop the feds from doing anything they want to do.”

A medical-pot patient here in Nevada can receive a registration card from the state by providing a written statement from a doctor that he or she has been diagnosed with a debilitating or chronic ailment, and that pot can provide relief.

Registered patients in Nevada are permitted under the law to grow seven plants. Other states vary on this, from California’s 99 plants per patient to seven in Oregon.

There are other pot growers in the area who are cultivating marijuana in hopes of eventually being a provider.

“I can see this becoming a real issue, obtaining medical pot, for some of these older, sick people,” said one dealer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I can grow it and make it safe for them to buy, rather than go to some seedy area.”

And grow it he does.

In a spare bedroom in a small, cinder-block house near the center of the city, nearly 100 plants will be harvested by late July.

The brilliantly green plants, ready to bud, look like a High Times centerfold and smell like a skunk, an endearing sign of potency among aficionados.

“I take two hours with them a day,” the grower says with pride, trimming an overflowing top.

Mr. Werner, who was arrested three years ago with 170 pounds, lives in a small house in a mostly-Hispanic neighborhood in North Las Vegas, his red Cavalier in the lean-to garage, a black cage of thick bars enclosing his entryway.

In July, he will have a simple ad in the Las Vegas Yellow Pages for his business: “Primary Caregivers and Consultants,” complete with his services including registration of patients with the state, and house calls for invalid patients.

“Right now I have 25 patients, and those are the only people I will sell to, as long as they have a doctor’s statement,” says Mr. Werner, who has his own state-issued card for a bipolar disorder. “The state’s voters have left the supply and distribution in my hands, and I am going to make sure every medicinal patients who needs pot can get it.”


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