Judge orders marijuana grower to face trial

July 17, 2007

Terry Vau Dell, Chico Enterprise-Record

OROVILLE -- In one of the first test cases locally involving medical marijuana co-ops, a judge Tuesday found sufficient evidence to hold a Chico man for trial on felony pot cultivation charges.

The attorney for Robert Rasmussen argued no criminal intent was shown when his client was found with 210 pot plants in various stages of growth in his home, only about 40 at full maturity.

Rasmussen, who reportedly suffers from cystic fibrosis and ingests marijuana to stimulate his appetite, contends he was growing for himself and at least six other medical marijuana patients.

But Butte County sheriff's detectives testified Tuesday two of the patients had pulled their plants the day before the bust, and that the doctor's recommendation for a third man had expired.

Complicating the case is the fact that when California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, allowing medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation, it set no limits on how much one could possess or where it could be lawfully obtained.

A few years ago, the state Legislature enacted SB420, which among other things, legitimized medical marijuana cooperatives, and set a base limit of six mature plants, 12 immature plants and eight ounces of dried marijuana per patient.

Locally, District Attorney Mike Ramsey, established a set of written guidelines, which, while allowing a slightly larger one-pound threshold limit of medical pot per patient, also required each member of a co-op to post their doctor's recommendations and participate in the growing process or designate a "primary care giver" to do it for them if they are too ill.

Ramsey maintains he promulgated the guidelines to prevent those who grow marijuana commercially from trying to use Proposition 215 as a cover.

Rasmussen's Bay Area attorney, Omar Figueora, argued in court Tuesday that the "underground" local rules have no force or effect because they were never ratified by the Board of Supervisors or other legislative body.

Regardless of their legal effect, Superior Court Judge Steven Howell said the district attorney should be commended if for nothing else, informing would-be medical marijuana co-ops how they can keep the cops away from their doors.

Deputy district attorney Michael Candela argued the number of plants at Rasmussen's home was more than the law allowed even for a four-member co-op.

Figueora countered the six-plant per-patient figure established by the Legislature, was only a "threshold amount, not a ceiling."

He argued his client had been acting in good faith to comply with a "vague" law.

Howell agreed it could be years before courts receive definitive guidance in such medical marijuana cases.

Given the sheer number of plants found at the Chico man's residence, the judge ruled that Rasmussen had violated the law.

He held the young Chico man for trial on a single charge of felony cultivation of marijuana and a second count of providing a space for its illegal use.

Rasmussen, who was accompanied to court by several relatives and friends, remains free pending further proceedings in the complicated legal case.

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