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Feds Bust Medical Pot Patients In Courtroom

Two medical marijuana patients face life in prison after local prosecutors lured away their defense attorneys to permit federal agents to arrest the couple in court.
 
 
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California medical marijuana activists are outraged over the arrest last week of two medical marijuana patients who face potential life sentences on federal drug charges after being turned over by local authorities. David Davidson, of Oakland, California and his partner Cynthia Blake, of Red Bluff, California were arrested in a state courtroom in Corning, California on January 13 as they were seeking to dismiss state charges of marijuana cultivation and distribution.

Davidson and Blake, both 53, have doctor's recommendations to grow and consume medical marijuana under California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215). While their defense attorneys were meeting in the judge's chambers to discuss the case with Tehama County assistant district attorney Lynn Strom, Strom announced that she was dropping the state charges because Davidson and Blake were being arrested in the courtroom on a federal indictment.

One of the major flaws of California's medical marijuana law is that it does not specify how many plants a patient can grow or how much marijuana they can possess. Each county or city sets its own guidelines and law enforcement around the state has widely ranging interpretations of how much marijuana patients should have.

The Sacramento U.S. Attorneys office did not return calls seeking comment on the case. But Tehama County assistant district attorney Jonathan Skillman argues that Davidson and Blake were growing too much medical marijuana for their personal use. Skillman said prosecutors came to this conclusion after a raid on Davidson and Blake's homes allegedly netted 1,803 plants and over 60 pounds of "processed marijuana."

"He had plans to supply the entire West Coast," Stillman claimed. "It is not in the realm of peronal use."

But Davidson says prosecutors inflated the number of plants seized, which he says is reflected in the charges. He and Blake have been charged with manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants and conspiracy to cultivate more than 1,000 marijuana plants. The first charge carries a five- to 40-year prison sentence. The second is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.

Davidson said Cynthia Blake was growing 33 plants when the Tehama County sheriff's deputies raided her home in July. Skillman acknowledges that the county has no official plant limit for medical marijuana patients. But prosecutors used this information to secure a warrant to raid Davidson's house in Oakland, where he said he grew about 400 plants, mostly single leaf cuttings. Oakland patients are permitted by local ordinance to grow 72 mature plants and 32 square feet of marijuana garden canopy.

In last year's highly publicized federal case of Oakland medical marijuana grower Ed Rosenthal, jurors declined to include cuttings in the count of mature plants. As with that case, Davidson and Blake will likely be barred from arguing that their marijuana was for medical purposes since federal law does not recognized Prop. 215.

'A Spiteful Investigation'

Davidson contends that his lawyers were winning his case in state court, which prompted Strom to turn it over to the federal prosecutors.

Skillman denies this charge and says there was nothing improper about how Davidson and Blake were arrested. Davidson disagrees.

"Our attorneys were lured into the judge's chambers and as soon as the doors were closed, the deputies took us in a car as fast as they could all the way to Sacramento where we spent four hours chained in the county jail and held 24 hours before we could speak to counsel," Davidson said. "Now I'm facing 10 to 15 years in prison and I'm 53 years old. It's unbelievable."

Steph Sherer, executive director of the national medical marijuana coalition, Americans for Safe Access, disputed the allegation that Davidson and Blake possessed 60 pounds of processed marijuana. Sherer says discovery in the case indicates that prosecutors weighed sticks, stems, leaf cuttings and even root balls to arrive at the 60-pound figure -- a tactic employed by some investigators to inflate the weight of seized marijuana.

"This appears to be a spiteful investigation on behalf of the DA, paid for by the taxpayers of California, and if Strom would like to keep her job, she should respect the laws of the state," said Sherer. "If she did not believe this was a medical case she should have taken it to state court, and not handed over two citizens of California to the federal government for a 10-year mandatory sentence."

Sherer adds that Davidson and Blake's cases fall under a recent ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that if the marijuana is not purchased, transported across state lines, or used non-medically, the federal government has no jurisdiction to prosecute medical marijuana patients in California and other states.

Davidson, who says he's never been arrested or sold marijuana, is currently free on a $50,000 federal and $20,000 state bail, as is Blake.

"I've worked my whole life as a retail business owner and I was set for semi-retirement and now I'm ruined," Davidson says. "I am nearly flat broke and I will be before this is done."

Ann Harrison is a freelance reporter working in the Bay Area.