Ruling forces dismissal of medical marijuana case

November 23, 2002

Glenda Anderson, The Ukiah Daily Journal,

A new California Supreme Court ruling that enhanced medical marijuana users' and growers' rights has, for the first time in this county, resulted in dismissal of a court case. 'Justice has finally been served,' Public Defender Jeff Thoma said Friday after the two-year-old marijuana cultivation case against Whale Gulch residents Bill Matthews and Kathy Honzik was dismissed. The defendants also were pleased. 'My graying process will slow down a little bit,' said Matthews, whose long hair and beard currently are salt-and-pepper, heavy on the salt. 'Let them eat cake,' Honzik said. The July Supreme Court ruling, People vs Mower, shifted the burden of proving whether or not marijuana possession is legitimate to the prosecution, making such cases much more difficult to prosecute. The ruling 'changed the whole dynamic of this case,' said Public Defender Jeff Thoma. 'Until Mower came down, the D.A.'s Office wanted to go ahead.' Assistant District Attorney Myron Sawicki agreed the Supreme Court ruling made a difference, which was why his office did not file an argument in response to the Mower motion. Given the information the defense has presented while making its motion, he said he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants' marijuana plants weren't legitimate. He added his office might have come to the same conclusion earlier if more information including the addresses of the people the defendants were growing the plants for had been provided to his office before the Mower motion was filed. 'At the time (the defendants were indicted) we did not have credible evidence' the marijuana was being grown for people with medical needs, Sawicki said. He also noted the defendants did not, at the time they were arrested, have medical marijuana provider cards or other documentation indicating they were caregivers. 'They came up with the patients afterward,' Sawicki said. The defendants reportedly were busted in September 2000. According to District Attorney's reports, there were 363 plants, more than half of them seedlings, originally involved in the bust. The defendants, however, claim only 53 mature plants. Sawicki said the discrepancy could be the result of the plants being found in different areas and on different properties. The D.A.'s office had the case for a year when Sawicki decided to ask a grand jury to indict the defendants because he wanted community members to decide if the prosecution jibed with the spirit of Proposition 215, which made medical marijuana use in California legal. The move was called underhanded and secretive by supporters of the defendants, but Sawicki said it was done out of fairness. He said the office which generated local medical marijuana I.D. cards to help avoid such arrests does not want to prosecute legitimate medical marijuana users or providers. 'We don't prosecute medical marijuana cases. We prosecute medical marijuana fraud,' Sawicki said. He said legitimate growers who get their documentation in order and get medical marijuana user or caregiver cards can avoid prosecution in the first place.

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