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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chronic City: Let Them Grow Pot -- California Supreme Court Lets Collective Marijuana Cultivation Continue

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 1:25 PM

click to enlarge Leave that weed alone, officer! - DEA.GOV
  • dea.gov
  • Leave that weed alone, officer!
​Rural sheriff's departments in California may have to find a new pastime to replace bullying medical Marijuana growers. In a major victory for pot advocates, the California Supreme Court -- right around harvest time! -- has refused to review a landmark appellate court ruling protecting the right of medical Marijuana patients and their caregivers to collectively grow weed.

The 2-1 ruling by California's Third Appellate District Court also affirmed patients' ability to take civil action when their right to collectively cultivate Marijuana is violated by law enforcement. The case, County of Butte v. Superior Court, involved a private seven-patient medical Marijuana collective in Paradise, California (oh! the delicious irony -- props to God or whomever is responsible).

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nationwide medical Marijuana advocacy group, filed a May 2006 lawsuit on behalf David Williams, 56, and half a dozen other collective members after the Butte County Sheriff's Department conducted a warrantless search of Williams' home in 2005. The officers forced Williams to uproot more than two dozen plants, threatening him with arrest and prosecution if he didn't comply.

Williams was incorrectly told by Deputy Jacob Hancock that his

collectively cultivated Marijuana was illegal. California state law, in

fact, does allow for collective cultivation.


Butte

County Sheriff/Coroner Perry Reniff and his department were attempting

to impose a de facto ban on medical Marijuana patient collectives,

according to ASA.


Joe Elford, Americans for Safe Access - PHOTO: ASA
  • Photo: ASA
  • Joe Elford, Americans for Safe Access

"By refusing to review this case, the California Supreme Court sends a

strong message that local law enforcement must uphold the medical

Marijuana laws of the state and not competing federal laws," said Joe

Elford, ASA chief counsel, who litigated the case for Williams.

According to the July 2009 appellate court ruling, the "deputy was

acting under color of California law, not federal law. Accordingly, the

propriety of his conduct is measured by California law."


The

court went further, stating that to deny medical Marijuana patients

protection from warrantless intrusions and seizures by law enforcement

"would surely shock the sensibilities of the voters who approved

[Proposition 215]."


The landmark decision said

that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is not simply an affirmative

defense to criminal sanctions, holding that it consisted of "...an

opportunity for an individual to request the same constitutional

guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what

their status, under state state Constitution. The fact that this case

involves medical Marijuana and a qualified medial Marijuana patient

does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an

individual's right to assert them."


The

appellate court ruling upheld Butte County Superior Court Judge Barbara

Roberts' ruling from September 2007, in which she stated that seriously

ill patients cultivating Marijuana collectively "should not be required

to risk criminal penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal

trial in order to assert their rights. Roberts' ruling also

rejected Butte County's policy of requiring all members to physically

participate in the cultivation, thereby allowing collective members to

"contribute financially" rather than with sweat equity.


The

Butte County Sheriff's Department was already known for its zealous

anti-Marijuana enforcement. The first medical Marijuana supplier in the

state to be prosecuted in federal court after the passage of

Proposition 215 was originally arrested by Butte County officers. Chico

resident Bryan Epis received a 10-year sentence in federal court in

2002 for medical Marijuana cultivation after Butte County officers

raided his home in 1997 and seized 458 plants.


Observers

of the medical Marijuana scene say the court decision could have

repercussions statewide in other (predominantly rural) counties with

pot-phobic local law enforcement. Elford said he has received hundreds

of complaints from medical Marijuana patients about local anti-pot cops

seizing their drugs on the logic that "we'll take it from you and let

the courts sort it out."


Repeated

reports of problematic behavior by Butte County law enforcement, as well

as other police agencies throughout the state, resulted in the filing

of the Williams lawsuit, according to ASA.


"After

uncovering Butte County's de facto ban on medical Marijuana patient

collectives, ASA decided to pursue the case to show that collectives

and cooperatives are protected under state law," said ASA media liaison

Kris Hermes.


"In addition to protecting

patients' rights to collectively cultivate, the Court has reaffirmed

that medical Marijuana patients enjoy the same constitutional rights as

everyone else," said  Elford, "including the ability to file civil

rights actions when those rights are violated."

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