Medical pot case back in court

August 17, 2005

Wendy Thomas Russell, Long Beach Press Telegram

A 72-year-old man who claims he once grew marijuana in an at tempt to subdue the pain of his ail ing hip was back in court Wednesday on a charge of cultivating the drug for sale. Nathan Smiley is facing a felony charge that dates back to 2001, when Long Beach police found 19 cannabis plants growing in his Los Coyotes Diagonal rental apartment.

At the time, police and prosecu tors contended that Smiley was using California's medical-marijuana law as a smoke screen to disguise his own illegal operation, but a jury hearing the case failed to reach a verdict.

And, in the years that followed, three Long Beach Superior Court judges agreed the charge should be dismissed because of insufficient evidence to prove Smiley's guilt.

An appellate court has disagreed.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeal reinstated Smiley's case, ruling that prosecutors should have been allowed to try the de fendant for a second time.

Smiley, who runs a business that provides cleaning chemicals to the automobile industry, ap peared briefly in Long Beach Su perior Court Wednesday, but was ordered back for a preliminary hearing Sept. 8.

He called the decision to rein state the case "preposterous."

"Of course," he said, "I can't help but feel that I've been drug through the rye."

Michael Tranbarger, head dep uty for the Long Beach branch of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said he was pleased with the appellate decision in the Smiley matter.

"Do we think he violated the law, and do we think he violated the medical-marijuana law? Yeah," Tranbarger said. "And, clearly, we do not think (medicine) is what that was all about."

Proposition 215, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, gives seriously ill Californians the right to cultivate, obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes upon a doctor's recommendation.

Long Beach police officers al leged that Smiley's 19 plants promised to produce more pot than necessary to treat Smiley's pain. And they said the cost of his sophisticated growing operation estimated at between $10,000 and $30,000 exceeded what would ordinarily be spent on a medical-marijuana endeavor.

Smiley said he started growing the plants in 2000 to counteract the chronic pain in his hip left by a 1984 car accident. He said he had never used the drug before. And, at the time of his arrest, he said he was still experimenting with the plants and wasn't sure how many he would need.

He also alluded that he might give any extra marijuana to other patients, although that kind of distribution is not allowed under the law.

After a jury deadlocked at trial, Judge Richard Romero dismissed Smiley's case in the furtherance of justice. Prosecutors refiled the charge, but, after a preliminary hearing, Judge Richard Lyman found insufficient evidence to hold the defendant for trial. A third judge affirmed Lyman's decision the same decision the appellate court later reversed.

Smiley said he has since had surgery to correct the pain that marijuana was intended to treat. He said he no longer needs the drug but that he intends to fight the case, in part, to bring attention to Prop 215.

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