Pot charges against couple dropped

June 03, 2004

Derek J. Moore, Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Prosecutors dismissed felony drug charges against a Sebastopol couple Thursday, marking a victory for medical marijuana advocates who have publicly sparred with Sonoma County's district attorney.

A handful of supporters cheered in Judge Robert Dale's courtroom when a prosecutor announced that charges against Ivan and Cathy Dobshinsky were being dropped.

They were charged in January 2003 with cultivating marijuana and possessing it for sale after Sonoma County sheriff's deputies confiscated 4 pounds of cannabis and 88 seedlings from their home.

Deputies had obtained a search warrant after Ivan Dobshinsky's 15-year-old son was caught with marijuana at school.

The Dobshinskys claimed they had approval from a physician to grow the marijuana, a requirement under Proposition 215, the ballot measure that legalized pot for medical purposes. But the Dobshinskys' permission card had expired. They say they have since renewed the card.

'They're tremendously relieved,' said Marie Case, Cathy Dobshinsky's attorney.

The dismissal in the Dobshinsky case came a week after the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana went public with allegations that District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua is reneging on a campaign promise not to prosecute medical marijuana cases.

Passalacqua denied the allegation, which comes from a group that strongly supported his bid to unseat District Attorney Mike Mullins in 2002.

Passalacqua also insisted that political pressure didn't influence his decision to drop charges against the Dobshinskys, saying the decision was made weeks before the recent dust-up with activists.

'This was a case where there was a new physician recommendation after we filed,' he said. 'We closely evaluated this case on its merits and felt we wouldn't prevail at trial and that the spirit of Prop. 215 was followed.'

Activists argue that such cases shouldn't be filed at all and that law enforcement is targeting medical marijuana users on technicalities, which Passalacqua said is untrue.

'We review 23,000 cases a year. Presently we only have six pending (medical marijuana) cases,' he said. 'That basically shows that we are being fair on these types of cases given the recent guidelines.'

Activists cautiously hailed the decision to drop the charges but are now pushing for dismissals in the remaining cases.

Passalacqua said only that he would review each case on its merits.

Six other Sonoma County residents who claim they use or grow marijuana for medical purposes currently face felony charges brought by the district attorney. Some had expired physician approval cards or no cards at all, while others allegedly exceeded the county's limit on how much marijuana one person can grow.

'If this is a one-shot deal and he's going to be prosecuting cases he shouldn't be prosecuting, then we have a problem,' said Doc Knapp, spokesman for the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

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