Judge Orders 18 Ounces of ‘Purple Haze’ Returned

February 04, 2004

Cathy Redfern, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz — Judge Art Danner on Wednesday ordered police to return 18 ounces of 'Purple Haze' marijuana to two men who had the drug confiscated during a minor car stop in Scotts Valley.

Police pulled over Leo Beus, 47, of Felton, on Sept. 22 because his car had tinted windows. His friend, Jon Balesteri, 54, of Santa Cruz, was with him. The men had bought the 14 ounces of 'herbal medicine' a day earlier at the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club, said their attorney, Ben Rice.

They didn’t have their medical prescriptions with them, but the 'very nice' officer allowed them to go home and get them, Beus said. However, their $3,000-plus worth of medicine was confiscated for evidence.

The District Attorney’s Office charged the men with transporting and possessing marijuana for sale, then dropped the charges. District Attorney Bob Lee said there have been a handful of county cases in the past few years where judges have ordered medical marijuana returned to patients.

Rice said Danner issued the return order because of the December federal appeals court ruling that the 1970 Controlled Substances Act outlawing marijuana may not apply to sick people who have a doctor’s recommendation. The decision is likely to be appealed by the federal government.

California voters in 1996 passed Proposition 215, which made medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation legal under state law. The law contradicts federal drug laws.

'In the past, Danner has refused to order it returned because of the divergence of federal and state law,' Rice said. But the December decision 'means that California and federal law, at least in the 9th circuit area, are on the same page.'

He said county officials and Sheriff Mark Tracy have been working on defining how much medical marijuana is reasonable for a patient to possess. A state law that took effect Jan. 1 says patients may possess up to 8 ounces, but that counties can set more lenient amounts. Rice said 8 ounces is an 'unrealistic number.'

When medical marijuana is confiscated, Rice and others would like to see officers seize only as much marijuana as needed for evidence.

'We are lucky to have Sheriff Tracy and other local government leaders,' he said. 'But one thing that has to stop is the confiscation of crops and then officers giving back spoiled marijuana.'

Beus, a landscaper, has two broken vertebrae and says pain medication in pill form nauseates him. Balesteri, a disabled former truck driver, suffers from maladies including migraines, hepatitis C and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The men were obviously pleased with the outcome Wednesday. The marijuana was given to the court by Sgt. Donna Lind, then handed to Rice. Lind said later she was simply following the court’s order.

'The law is so confusing that it puts us in a difficult position,' she said.

Outside Danner’s courtroom Wednesday the pungent odor of marijuana wafted in the hallway.

Rice’s clients thanked him for getting their marijuana back.

'Thanks, man, you’re a sweetheart,' Balesteri said.

'Yes, thanks, it’s been great,' Beus echoed. 'Santa Cruz has come a long way. I’m really grateful.'

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