Busted Pullman man fighting pot conviction

March 19, 2007

Courtney Adams, Daily Evergreen

Nearly three years after being busted for marijuana possession, a Pullman man is still appealing a court decision that found him guilty of the crime.

Loren R. Hanson, the former owner of the Manor Lodge Motel, grew marijuana plants after receiving information from his doctor, intending to use the marijuana to treat his glaucoma, his lawyer said.

“The smoke just getting in my eyes relieves pressure and keeps me from losing eyesight,” Hanson told The Spokesman-Review last month.

The Quad-Cities Drug Task Force entered the motel on Aug. 24, 2004, and seized several marijuana plants from the 64-year-old man. Hanson sold the motel in the summer of 2006.

Three weeks ago, Hanson and his lawyer filed an appeal seeking to dismiss a 2005 court decision, and it could take up to six months for a decision, said the lawyer, Frank Cikutovich of Spokane.

Cikutovich said Hanson’s medicine never should have been taken away from him – primarily because it was for medicinal purposes. But he also said because marijuana should not be classified as a Schedule I substance, which means it has no proven medical uses.

It was the first time Hanson had attempted to grow marijuana and did not seek help from anyone, Cikutovich said. Hanson got most of his information from High Times magazine.

“He found it was a lot more difficult to grow,” said Cikutovich, who specializes in medicinal marijuana cases.

Since 1998 – the year Washington passed an initiative that allows medical use of marijuana – patients who are advised on the benefits and risks by their doctors can legally obtain marijuana for treatment.

According to RCW 69.15, patients can have a 60-day supply of marijuana provided they have “valid documentation” – a statement signed by a qualified physician, or a copy of the patient’s pertinent medical records in which a physician states the benefits would likely outweigh the health risks.

Besides Hanson’s legal right to possess the plants, Cikutovich said the law changed previous laws regarding marijuana and allows it to be used medicinally.

Cikutovich said this nullifies the law that Hanson broke – possession of a Schedule I substance. The state can determine the scheduling of drugs, Cikutovich told the S-R.

“It should not be considered a Schedule I drug,” he said.

Hanson seemed to fit the law’s requirements but did not have a written statement, just pertinent medical records, Cikutovich said. After an anonymous tip from an employee at Manor Lodge Motel in 2004, police raided the business and seized 34 mature plants.

The amount was less than a 60-day supply, according to U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer in a letter to Seattle Police in 1999.

The same day of the raid, Hanson went to his doctor and obtained written authorization for the marijuana. When Hanson went to trial in November 2005, Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier did not allow the document to be admitted as evidence.

The prosecuting attorney, Byron Bedirian, said it was because the evidence did not have any bearing on the defendant when the search warrant was obtained to raid Hanson’s business, according to a brief filed with the appeal.

“Rather than speaking to the 60-year-old man, they came in with guns and took his medicine away,” Cikutovich said.

Hanson was fined $1,700 and assigned 40 hours of community service for possession. Whitman County Prosecutor Dennis Tracy said the punishment fit the crime because Hanson obtained the authorization after the raid.

“Mr. Hanson didn’t have [authorization] at the time,” Tracy said. “You have to comply with the requirements of the act at the time when you’re alleged to have committed the crime.” Hanson’s lawyer disagreed. The law states that medical records are a form of authorization, but Tracy said no medical records were presented in the 2005 trial.

“His lawyer didn’t make it [the argument] at the time of the trial,” Tracy said.

Cikutovich said he is optimistic about the outcome of the appeal and hopes to continue helping patients in Eastern Washington get access to medical marijuana.

“I support the use of marijuana for legitimate medical conditions,” Tracy said, “but the medical marijuana act has certain provisions that need to be complied with.”

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