Agents destroy pot garden; user says drug prescribed

September 13, 2007

Ryan Sabalow, Redding Searchlight-Record

BELLA VISTA -- Federal agents raided a 100-plant garden on property along Backbone Ridge near here Wednesday, outraging at least one area man who claims the feds destroyed his medicinal marijuana, which is legal under California law.

And in another example of the often contentious medical marijuana laws, a Tehama County couple on Thursday was sentenced in state court for growing more than the law allows.

Jon Pickette, the Drug Enforcement Agency's supervisory special agent in Redding, said the Bella Vista outdoor garden was spotted from the air.

Agents received a federal search warrant to raid the rural property and destroyed the plants, while seizing close to $60,000 in cash, he said.

Property owner Richard Parker wasn't arrested, but Pickette said that the case would be forwarded to U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott in Sacramento for review.

"It is against federal law to have any," Pickette said of the marijuana, adding that the state's "medical necessity defense" in cultivation cases does not apply in federal court.

That outrages Keith Hoppes, 49, of Bella Vista who says that six of those plants were his, although they were grown by Parker.

Hoppes said he received a doctor's written approval to use medical cannabis after he severely injured his back, and Parker grows the drugs for him as his "caregiver."

"I'm a patient," Hoppes said. "Now, I have no medicine."

California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 gives seriously ill patients the right to obtain and use marijuana to control pain, nausea and other symptoms.

No such law exists on the federal level.

Under state law, a patient with a doctor's written recommendation is allowed to grow up to six budding plants or 12 immature plants. They also can have no more than 8 ounces of processed pot, said Tehama County

Deputy District Attorney Lynn Strom.

Although there are exceptions for patients who live in a different county than the grower, a person can cultivate for more than just himself or herself if patients designate them as a caregiver, she said, adding that they can't grow the pot for profit.

Multiple patients also can raise marijuana in the same garden together in what's known as a "cooperative grow," she said.

But the same laws about the amount of marijuana allowed per patient apply to the larger grows, Strom said.

"The bottom line is the people who get into trouble with this are the ones who get greedy," she said.

One such case, she said, came to a resolution in Tehama County Superior Court on Thursday.

Married Corning residents Gerald and Dawn Malley were sentenced after being found guilty last month for growing marijuana, Strom said.

Although the couple and co-defendant Jeremy Youngren, 36, claimed they had been growing 44 plants and had more than 20 pounds of processed pot for medical use, the jury determined they had more than state law allows, she said.

Gerald Malley, 57, was sentenced to two years in prison. Dawn Malley, 47, received a 60-day jail sentence.

Youngren, who is from Chico, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 12.

Reporter Ryan Sabalow can be reached at 225-8344 or at rsabalow@redding.com.



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