Rally held against handling of cases in marijuana busts

December 27, 2011

Nick Wilson, San Luis Obispo Tribune

One year after a group dubbed the “SLO 12” was arrested during an undercover investigation into medical marijuana dispensaries, some local activists are still fuming.

About 10 people gathered Tuesday morning outside San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Monterey Street to protest the arrests.

They held signs supporting “safe access” to medical marijuana and criticized the ongoing handling of the cases.

The bust has led to ongoing prosecutions they say are unnecessary, draining for defendants and wasteful of taxpayer money.

They contend that those arrested were complying with Proposition 215, the law passed by California voters in 1996.

The legislation exempts qualified patients and their primary caregivers from criminal prosecution for possessing and cultivating marijuana.

“A woman in the group arrested has been through 15 court appearances, and her case still hasn’t gone to trial,” said Linda Hill, spokeswoman for the San Luis Obispo Americans for Safe Access organization. “They’re being worn out emotionally, physically and financially.”

Of the 12 locals who were arrested, nine are still awaiting trial since the one-year anniversary of the sting. Three of those arrested were never charged by prosecutors.

Law enforcement officials say those arrested sold marijuana illegally in violation of the state’s Compassionate Use Act and Medical Marijuana Program.

The details of how the marijuana was distributed, and whether the state guidelines were followed, will likely be at the heart of the battles in court.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the protest Tuesday, citing the absence of high-ranking officials this week.

The attorney general guidelines state that, once a collective is formed, members may reimburse it for marijuana allocated to them.

But the reimbursement should only be enough to cover overhead costs and operating expenses.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana advocate Rich Donald cited a September case against medical marijuana defendants Deip Paul, a Cal Poly student, and Kings County resident Steve Brown, alleging an illegal transaction.

The case resulted in a not guilty verdict after a hard-fought trial. Paul and Brown weren’t connected with the sting operation last year. “I think that case shows an attitude on the part of the jurors that will be reflected in the SLO 12 cases pending now if they go to trial,” Donald said. “But I think the charges should be dropped immediately.”

One of the protesters at Tuesday’s rally said the prosecution has cost him $10,000 in legal fees, taken away his business and led him to take anti-depressants. He didn’t want to be identified because of the personal nature of his comments.

But the commander of the Narcotics Task Force who supervised the bust said last year, “This is an illegal marijuana issue. There was nothing medical about the marijuana we took,” Rodney John said.



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