Setting Precedent for Patients and Providers in San Luis Obispo County
September 19, 2011 | Kris Hermes
Earlier this month, two medical marijuana patients were acquitted of all charges in a case that is likely to affect numerous other similar pending cases. Deip Paul and Steven Brown were found “not guilty” of several felonies after only two hours of jury deliberation. The September 7th verdict finished off a two-week trial, which Superior Court Judge John Trice called:
[a]n historic ruling for San Luis Obispo County, the first of its kind I believe, that I'm sure will have a large repercussions on currently ongoing trials.
This victory for patients should be taken in context. Although the California coastal county of San Luis Obispo (SLO) is known for its vineyards, rolling hills, and the serenity of the Pacific Ocean, over the years law enforcement has been terrorizing the medical marijuana patient community.
With the case of Charles C. Lynch, law enforcement attempted to scare and intimidate county medical marijuana patients and providers by federally prosecuting Lynch for operating his Morro Bay dispensary, despite city approval and business community support. The SLO Sheriff and federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided Lynch in 2007.
Then in 2009, the San Luis Obispo Narcotics Task Force (NTF) started an investigation of Paul, a Cal Poly student who suffers from debilitating migraines, after he reported a burglary to the police. In February 2009, NTF officers followed Paul who was meeting with his medical marijuana provider. The two were arrested and charged with possession, possession with intent to sell, transportation, and conspiracy to sell marijuana. A third defendant, Cory Wolin, faced similar charges, but took a plea deal by testifying against his friend Paul.
While Paul and Brown were getting prosecuted, NTF Commander Rodney John led a series of criminal enforcement actions in December 2010 against patients and their providers, mainly the operators of delivery services, which were spurred by the hostility against storefront medical marijuana dispensaries in the county. These raids resulted in several arrests and subsequent prosecutions.
Once the case finally made it to trial more than two years later, the jury weighed whether Paul and Brown were within their rights as qualified patients to engage in an exchange of money for medical marijuana, and if the amount of marijuana and money involved were “reasonable” under the law. The courtroom was packed with supporters during the trial; the strong solidarity was evident.
Despite Commander John’s testimony in the Paul/Brown trial, his evidence failed to convince the jury. This does not bode well for John’s other nine cases that are winding their way through the SLO Superior Court. The New Times reported this week that, “District Attorney Gerald Shea may have to consider differently which cases to pursue.” A motion to dismiss several of the cases was scheduled to be heard today.
Paul and Brown are now seeking the return of their wrongfully seized property, still in police custody.