Man wants marijuana back after arrest

April 25, 2004

Marsha Dorgan, Napa Valley Register

Daran Monghadam wants his pot back. But it doesn't look like that is going to happen anytime soon. Monghadam, 40, of Clear Lakes Oaks in Lake County, has a valid medical marijuana photo ID card issued by the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.

But when Monghadam was stopped for a vehicle code violation by a Napa County sheriff's deputy on Feb. 15, his marijuana ID card and license were at home. Unfortunately, his medical marijuana stash was in the trunk of his car.

Since Monghadam wasn't able to provide the deputy with his paperwork, he was arrested on misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and booked into the county jail.

Monghadam doesn't hold any grudge against the arresting deputy or correctional officers.

'They're only doing their job. Everyone was very polite, and I was treated fairly and with respect,' he said. 'They held me for about four hours, then I was released and ordered to appear in court.'

Monghadam, a tow truck driver for 15 years, said he has arthritis and suffers from constant chronic back pain. As an alternative to prescription drugs, Monghadam said his doctor issued him a prescription for medical marijuana.

Monghadam had his day in court on March 18. After producing his valid driver's license and medical marijuana ID card, the misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana against him was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Stephen Kroyer.

With the charge dropped, Monghadam was certain he would be able to retrieve his confiscated pot.

Wrong.

'The court suggested I go to the district attorney and fill out a request for the release of my marijuana,' Monghadam said.

From the courthouse, Monghadam trekked over to the district attorney's office.

Since the district attorney doesn't have the authority to release evidence, Monghadam was advised to get a court order for the release of his marijuana.

So a couple weeks later it was back to the Napa County courthouse.

On Wednesday, Monghadam found himself pleading his case in front of Superior Court Commissioner Kelly Boyd, who denied his request to issue a court order for the release of his marijuana.

The court referred Monghadam to the district attorney and sheriff's department.

Since Monghadam had already given his spiel o the district attorney, his next plan took him to the sheriff's office.

'I talked to Capt. (Gene) Lyerla, but he told me it was against federal law to release the marijuana,' Monghadam said. 'At that point, I knew the only thing left to do was to get an attorney.'

Monghadam discovered attorneys can be costly. 'When I found out the lawyer charged $300 an hour -- and the marijuana is only worth $340 -- I decided it just wasn't worth it,' he said. 'I guess I'm just out of luck on this one.'

Sheriff Capt. Gene Lyerla said this is his first encounter with this situation.

'Federal law prohibits the distribution of marijuana, which is an illegal drug. And we can't release anything that is illegal,' Lyerla said.

Several years ago, California residents passed Proposition 215, legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

However, Proposition 215 is in direct conflict with federal law, Lyerla said.

Since pot is illegal, it is treated like other contraband that comes into the possession of law enforcement.

For example, Lyerla said, often when deputies respond to a domestic violence call, they will temporarily confiscate any weapons in the house.

'If we find out the person is not allowed to legally possess a weapon for a number of reasons, even if the domestic violence charge is dismissed, we would not release their weapons back to them,' he said. 'We can't give someone something that they are not allowed to have by law.'

Lyerla believes Monghadam has 'pretty well exhausted all of his local avenues' in retrieving his marijuana.

'We've never come across this before. Will we come across it again in the future? Most likely so,' he said. 'And we will most likely follow the same policy.'

Meanwhile, Monghadam is learning to cope with his pain without his medicinal marijuana.

'I've been out of work for some time on a work-related injury. I have no money to buy any more pot, so I'll have to take codeine. I really don't want to depend on prescription drugs.'

Monghadam isn't happy with the justice system.

'I don't think it's very truthful. The government doesn't play by its own rules. The state says it's legal to have marijuana for medicinal use. I have done everything I'm suppose to do to get the drug legally. If it was illegal, I certainly wouldn't be using it,' he said.


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