Medical marijuana grower's sentence reduced

December 05, 2007

Terry Vau Dell, Chico Enterprise-Record

OROVILLE -- When a Paradise woman began growing and selling medical marijuana as part of a "collective" involving more than 50 other local patients, she never thought she could end up losing her home.

Documents show that after being contacted by Butte County sheriff's officers, federal prosecutors obtained a lien against Patricia Hatton's two-bedroom residence under a separate asset-forfeiture action in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

Though Hatton said she still doesn't feel she committed a crime, she agreed to plead guilty to pot cultivation in exchange for receiving a 20 percent share of the sale of her 6893 Lunar Lane house, which the ridge woman said was recently appraised at $190,000.

Hatton, who suffers from a chronic back injury and had lived in the house about nine years, said she had been encouraged to grow medical marijuana for others unable to do so themselves and only sold to patients, like herself, with a valid doctor's recommendation.

At her sentencing Wednesday, her attorney, Jodea Foster of Chico, pointed out the state Legislature authorized the formation of medical marijuana collectives and that recent court cases permitted growers to receive financial reimbursement for cultivation expenses.

But even if she was acquitted by a local jury of the pot charges, Foster said he advised her she would likely lose her home anyway in federal court, which does not recognize the legitimacy of California's medical marijuana laws.

Criticizing what he called the government's "strong-arm" tactics in the case, Hatton's lawyer urged leniency in her case. "These (sheriff's) officers subverted the laws of California, did an end-run around medical marijuana laws and turned Mrs. Hatton over to the federal government where she was defenseless," the defense attorney charged.

In response, Butte County deputy district attorney A.J. Haggard pointed out when she was arrested, there were 211 marijuana plants in various stages of growth inside Hatton's home, plus additional amounts of processed pot.

The prosecutor said price lists found at the residence, setting an ounce of marijuana at $280, showed the ridge woman had "made a decision to make this into a commercial operation ... (with) a huge profit margin."

Arguing that Proposition 215 "was not designed to encourage drug dealing," Haggard asked Superior Court Judge James Reilley to follow the recommended sentence of 90 days in jail, plus 200 hours of community service.

Citing the defendant's age and lack of any prior record, the judge cut the jail term to only 30 days, and allowed Hatton to begin the sentence after the holidays.

The judge also cut in half the proposed community service hours, and struck several conditions of her probation that would have required her to pay drug fines and complete a residential treatment program.

Letters in support of Hatton, characterizing her as a compassionate person who was only trying to relieve suffering, were submitted to the judge prior to Wednesday's sentencing hearing from her grown daughter and two members of the defendant's Paradise medical marijuana collective.

Hatton, who lost her part-time job following her arrest and is now living with her elderly parents, said she doesn't feel she deserves any time behind bars.

"If I was making nothing but money, I'd be driving a Lincoln and my house would definitely have been paid off; I'm poverty stricken and I have no home now," observed the ridge woman.

Until the courts or Legislature removes "the mass confusion" over medical marijuana laws, Hatton advises others to consult an attorney before starting up a similar patient co-op.

"If this is how Butte County is going to operate from now on, if you're a homeowner, you're going to lose your home ... and that is absurd."



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