Pot-growing woman, 60, reports to prison

January 05, 2007

Adam Martin, The Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO - Amid a shower of tossed daisies, a flurry of hugs and lots of tears, a 60-year-old woman who was investigated by San Francisco police for growing medical marijuana in 2002 turned herself in to federal marshals this week.

Stephanie Landa must begin serving her 41-month federal prison sentence while waiting for her latest appeal to make its way through the courts, a federal judge ruled in December. In 2002, Landa pleaded guilty to federal marijuana cultivation charges. Evidence, including the actual marijuana, collected during the San Francisco police investigation was used in her federal prosecution.

On July 18, 2002, police officers raided the warehouse space Landa and two co-defendants were renting at 560 Brannan St., just two blocks from police headquarters at the Hall of Justice. They placed Landa in handcuffs and read her Miranda rights, then let her go, but three weeks later, according to her attorney Allison Margolin, she was indicted on federal drug charges.

At the time of Landa’s arrest, San Francisco had recently declared itself a symbolic “sanctuary” for medical marijuana users, growers and distributers. Proposition 215, passed by state voters in 1996, permits the growing and using of medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.

Most recently, in November, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution making marijuana violations the lowest priority for law enforcement. But marijuana possession, cultivation and sales remain federal crimes.

Before Landa’s arrest, she said, she and other medical marijuana activists met with San Francisco police officers with the narcotics division, who advised them on the law, and suggested they set up shop near the Hall of Justice to lower the risk of burglaries.

“They said as long as you stay in The City, within the city limits, hire licensed electricians, you can grow medical marijuana,” Landa said Wednesday.

But Capt. Tim Hettrich, who heads the narcotics division, said Wednesday that the officers never gave specific advice to individuals and “definitely” didn’t instruct them on where to set up shop.

“We are not going to advise people to break the law,” Hettrich said. “At the time, Prop. 215 was in effect. [The officers] went out and spoke to many groups on the effect of the law on citizens for medicinal marijuana.”

On Thursday, as Landa hugged her 20-year-old son Max Landa before heading into the federal building, Police Commissioner David Campos called for a review of police resources spent on the enforcement of marijuana laws.

“It makes no sense to me that we would expend those resources enforcing marijuana laws,” he said. “The idea that a 60-year-old woman could spend 41 months in prison makes no sense to me.”

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who introduced the latest marijuana legislation, said, “I’m supportive of this woman. I think there’s a lot of arbitrary morality in this decision. If anybody’s a victim, I think she is.”

But Capt. Hettrich defended the department’s handling of the case. He said a citizen complaint instigated the surveillance and subsequent raid of the warehouse.

“We would be remiss in our duty if we did not investigate complaints,” he said.

amartin@examiner.com



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