Drafted Into The Pot War
Ex-stuntman from Prunedale becomes a warrior for medical marijuana.
Thursday, August 6, 1998
Sam Perryman doesn''t look like a spokesman for the medical marijuana movement, or even like someone who smokes pot. He''s a clean-cut, 35-year-old father of two, with a preppy dress style and respectful manner.
But Perryman is emerging as perhaps the most compelling voice in Monterey County on the medical marijuana issue: both as a reluctant yet effective political force, and as the county''s first ever cultivation case testing the right of people like Perryman to grow marijuana.
Beneath his button-down facade, the Prunedale native says he is in almost constant pain from a serious motorcycle accident and many injuries sustained as a movie stuntman.
His simple testimony that marijuana relieves his pain was persuasive enough--with no other public input--to cause a majority on the Monterey Planning Commission to recently reverse a stand taken less than two months earlier to specifically ban medical marijuana distribution centers in the city.
"I was considering suicide from the pain I''ve been going through for many years," Perryman last week told the commission, which, obviously touched by the testimony, voted unanimously not to support a zoning regulation banning cannabis buyers'' clubs.
"Mr. Perryman spoke beautifully on a very personal topic that is also a public health controversy," says then-chairwoman Molly Erickson. "The Planning Commission was able to recognize the human impact."
The vote meant little in real terms, because the courts have already ruled against such clubs for now, but Perryman is also at the center of another local medical marijuana controversy.
On July 15, Monterey County Sheriff''s Department deputies came to Perryman''s Prunedale home and seized 13 potted marijuana plants from the backyard.
Today, the once large, lush plants sit in the sheriff''s department evidence room, deprived of light and water and probably dead, despite the fact that the department also has in its possession a written recommendation for Sam Perryman to use marijuana from Dr. Pranav Shah, a distinguished Southern California doctor, on Shah''s letterhead.
Making Perryman''s case even more interesting is the catalyst for the deputies'' visit. They were called by Perryman''s sister, Jeanelle, who shares the family home with Perryman and her three children. Jeanelle was worried about the legal implications of her brother''s crop, so she says she called the sheriff''s department for information, and was told that nobody may legally grow marijuana in California.
That isn''t true, thanks to California voters, who in 1996 approved Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for patients with a doctor''s recommendation, including growing enough for personal use. That central tenet has been upheld by the courts, even as so-called cannabis buyers'' clubs have been found to be illegal.
But Jeanelle Perryman didn''t know that, and was scared by what she was told by a narcotics officer at the department (whom she could not identify, so Coast Weekly could not confirm the conversation). "He said if they saw them and I didn''t report them, they would raid the house, confiscate the plants and take my kids away," she said. "They said there was no way anyone could grow this legally."
Jeanelle said she became "frantic," and demanded her brother remove the plants, this despite the fact that she supports Perryman''s use of marijuana as a pain reliever, as did the whole family--including their minister father. Neighbors even say they were OK with the plants after Sam told them about his cultivation.
Jeanelle and Sam argued, and he told her to go ahead and call the sheriff''s department again and explain everything, which she did. "I just didn''t want my children in jeopardy," Jeanelle Perryman says. "I just wanted it all out in the open."
The Perrymans say the deputies were courteous, even as they questioned Jeanelle about whether Sam has many friends coming by the house, whether he wears a beeper and other questions probing whether the marijuana was for personal use or distribution.
Sam Perryman even accepts some of the blame for the initial confiscation of his plants, because he couldn''t find his doctor''s written recommendation, only a member card for the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.
The next day, Dr. Shah faxed the sheriff''s department his written recommendation, but Bob Empasis, head of the department''s Marijuana Eradication Unit, wants Perryman''s complete medical records before turning the case over to the district attorney''s office.
"Right now, we''re still trying to determine whether the recommendation is valid," says Empasis, who also confirmed that in the meantime, the plants, Perryman''s medicine, are being left to die. "We''re not in the business to cultivate and tend the plants."
He acknowledged that this is new territory for the sheriff''s department--"This is the first case in which someone came forward and said he had a written recommendation"--and procedures are still evolving.
Meanwhile, Perryman''s marijuana supply is almost gone, and he has no legal sources to replenish it, despite his diligent efforts to become a legal user in the year and a half since he first discovered marijuana eases his pain.
"I''ve gone to so many doctors and pain specialists and clinics," Perryman says, but most doctors are still afraid of legal reprisals for recommending marijuana. "What really bugs me is I had the resources to [find a willing doctor], but lots of people dying of AIDS and other things don''t have the time or resources."
After discovering marijuana, Perryman stopped using the battery of powerful pain relief drugs he has taken most of his adult life. Perryman uses marijuana anywhere from a few times a day to once every couple weeks, depending on his pain.
Marijuana, he says, "kind of knocks the edges off [the pain], just so I can stand it. And psychologically, it''s a big load off my shoulders to know something would work. It helps me to know that."
Perryman says his current legal battle has galvanized him, and he plans to take an activist role on an issue that just last week, as he sat in the Monterey Planning Commission audience, he professed a reluctance to address, and came forward only because nobody else would.
"I feel passionate about this," Perryman says, "because I know what it does." cw