Couple say marijuana was for medicinal purposes

October 24, 2007

Keith Roysdon, The Star Press (IN)

The owners of a Muncie business, arrested and charged with marijuana possession, said Wednesday that they grew the plant in their rural Henry County home for medicinal purposes.

Police officers and prosecutors -- besides noting that Indiana law does not allow marijuana use for medical purposes -- say they've never heard that defense used before.

"We're going to plead not guilty, and we'll take it to the Supreme Court if we need to," said Jeffrey L. Johnson.

Johnson, 46, and his wife, Bonnie L. Johnson, 48, were arrested Tuesday in their home in northern Henry County after an Indiana State Police investigation. They were charged with cultivating marijuana, possession of marijuana and maintaining a common nuisance. They posted bond and were released from the Henry County Jail.

Police said they found an indoor growing operation with 23 marijuana plants and "nearly" a pound of processed marijuana.

The Johnsons own Wine-N-Vine, an East McGalliard Road business that specializes in home beer-and-wine brewing equipment as well as indoor gardening equipment, including hydroponic -- soil-free -- growing tools and special lighting.

The company's Web site notes, "Home brew and home grown. Do it yourself and enjoy it yourself! Don't tell anyone!"

State police Sgt. John Bowling of the Connersville post said the investigation of the Johnsons began at their business, which led to the warrant to search their home.

State Police Senior Trooper Ron Halbert conducted the investigation and served the warrant Tuesday.

"That is a first for us, to have a prescription for marijuana shoved in our face while we're reading a warrant," Halbert said. "It is quite unusual."

The Johnsons opened their Muncie store in 2005, but Bonnie Johnson had an earlier brush with the law: In May 2003, she was charged with possession of marijuana. Four months later, she pleaded guilty to littering and paid a $500 fine in Muncie City Court.

Details of that case were not immediately available because the file had been moved to a Muncie City Court long-term storage facility. Delaware County Deputy Prosecutor Joe Orick -- who handled the case but doesn't remember it specifically -- said littering charges sometimes occur in instances of "a very weak case."

"The case may not be prosecutable, and that's an alternative both parties are in agreement with," Orick said.

Orick doesn't recall medicinal marijuana being argued in the earlier case.

"I've never heard that," Orick said. "I know that's an argument across the country. I've never had that cited as an excuse by a defendant or a defense attorney."

Indiana law does not allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Some states, including California, do allow some amount of marijuana possession for people with cancer, for example.

Jeffrey Johnson said his wife "has brain trauma and a lot of pain. She has to have it."

Johnson provided police -- and The Star Press -- with a copy of a 2003 prescription by a Florida doctor.

"Bonnie Johnson has seizure disorders and migraine headaches," the note reads. "She uses marijuana for medical reasons."

Jeffrey Johnson said he and his wife believed in using available means to lessen her pain.

"That is a God-given gift," he said. "It says in the Bible the herbs of the Earth will cure illness.

"We're not a common nuisance," he added. "We're not dope dealers. We're not anything but law-abiding, God-fearing citizens. Indiana state law just doesn't recognize medical marijuana yet."

Halbert was not sympathetic.

"Until Indiana changes its law, she needs to move to Canada or California," the trooper said.



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