Court voids medical marijuana conviction

May 01, 2007

Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The conviction of an aging motel owner who said he grew marijuana to treat his glaucoma has been reversed on medical grounds in what his lawyer said may be the first ruling of its kind in Washington.

Loren Hanson, 64, of Pullman meets the definition of a "qualifying patient" under the Medical Marijuana Act, adopted nine years ago as Initiative 692, a divided three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Hanson's lawyer, Frank Cikutovich, said the reversal of Hanson's conviction for manufacturing pot may be the first successful "affirmative defense" of a medical marijuana case in Washington, one of 11 states that allow its use with a doctor's recommendation.

Hanson is in poor health and allergic to other medication that could relieve the eye pressure from glaucoma, which can causes blindness, Cikutovich told The Spokesman-Review.

"We couldn't be more happy" with the ruling, the lawyer said.

Glaucoma is one of the conditions specified by the Washington law, which allows a marijuana user to be exempt from prosecution under state drug laws by presenting valid documentation of authorization -- essentially a prescription -- from a doctor at the request of law enforcement officials and possessing no more than a 60-day supply.

Hanson didn't obtain authorization from a doctor until after his business, Manor Lodge Motel, was raided by a law enforcement task force that seized 34 mature pot plants on Aug. 24, 2004. He presented the documentation when he turned himself in to the Whitman County Sheriff's Office the next day.

Superior Court Judge John David Frazier ruled that Hanson did not qualify for the exemption because he obtained the authorization after the raid, but appellate Judges Dennis Sweeney and Kenneth Kato held that the timing was irrelevant because -- having been absent at the time of the raid -- he presented it at the first opportunity.

"No one suggests any ambiguity in the statutory scheme, so we apply the plain language of the act," Sweeney wrote.

Writing in dissent, Judge Stephen Brown argued that regardless of the timing of the authorization, the case should have been returned to Superior Court for a hearing on whether the 34 plants that were seized exceeded a 60-day supply "because the evidence is sufficient to support guilt before considering the affirmative defense."

Deputy Prosecutor Byron Bedirian said Tuesday he was still studying the ruling and had not decided whether he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Bedirian said he hoped the case would give more clarity to the Medical Marijuana Act.

"If we can give law enforcement and medical marijuana patients' guidance, there is utility in that," he said.



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