Return of gear, but not marijuana, ordered

April 02, 2004

Harold Kruger, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, CA

Steve A. King, arrested two years ago in a Sutter County medical marijuana case, will get his cultivation equipment back but not 50 ounces of 'Amazing Elixir.'

Judge Robert Damron on Friday ordered that the $2,000 worth of growing lights, voltage regulators and other items be returned to King. They were seized in Sutter County.

But the judge declined to order Sheriff Jim Denney to hand over several boxes of Amazing Elixir - medical cannabis soaked in alcohol - that were seized in Yuba County as part of the same investigation.

Deputy District Attorney Susan Green told Damron that the cannabis, which she called contraband, was transferred to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration after King's arrest in January 2002.

'I am outraged that it is at the DEA,' said King's San Francisco lawyer, Omar Figueroa. 'The search warrant demands that the California peace officer seize the property and hold it for the court to determine what to do with it.'

Both attorneys cited the Yuba County case of Doyle and Belinda Satterfield, who were arrested in August 2001 in a marijuana cultivation case. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges after the Satterfields were able to show that the marijuana was intended for medical use.

When Judge James Curry ordered that 37 marijuana plants and about 4.5 pounds of processed material be returned to the Satterfields, Sheriff Virginia Black balked, saying she would be violating federal law.

The stalemate ended in May 2002 when the order was modified to allow Black to release the marijuana to the court. The judge then gave the marijuana to the Satterfields.

Sutter County District Attorney Carl Adams said Damron's ruling 'was appropriate under the law of the state and of the United States. It was appropriate to return the property to Mr. King that doesn't violate any law. But I think it's also appropriate for the judge not to return property which constitutes a federal felony.'

The District Attorney's Office charged King with two drug-related felonies, but dropped the case a few months later, citing the need for further investigation.

Figueroa told Judge Damron that 'the grand jury convened and refused to return an indictment.'

Adams declined to comment, saying that 'the nature of the grand jury is such that I never have anything to say about it.'

In court papers, Green said King 'can only speculate as to the findings of any grand jury, as he would not have been present for any such proceedings, if they occurred.'

Figueroa said he is considering an appeal of Damron's order.

'It's definitely a step in the right direction. It's a qualified victory in that the grand jury as well as the DA's Office have decided not to pursue criminal prosecution of Mr. King,' Figueroa said. 'They've acknowledged he's a legitimate medical cannabis patient and caregiver. It's a victory in that sense. It's a defeat for the people of California because California law was not enforced today.'

The defense lawyer said that he sensed 'a change of temperament for the better in the DA's Office. They realize that medical cannabis is growing ever more popular.'

King said he still grows medical marijuana.

'I'm staying within the guidelines of state law and trying to follow what they're putting us out to do,' he said.

As the county's chief prosecutor, Adams said, he tries to 'reconcile the law of the United States and California and act judiciously.'

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