Medical marijuana growers score a defense

In San Francisco, people who grow their own medical marijuana and their attorneys are celebrating the recent California Supreme Court decision that overturned the law limiting possession to 8 ounces. The court found that patients can have as much as they need for personal use, just as Proposition 215 dictated in 1996.

A San Francisco attorney, Omar Figueroa, has seen the first of what he predicts will be many criminal cases dismissed, based on the ruling. His clients, Johanna and Joe Azevedo, were arrested in Vacaville in December 2008 for cultivating more than 8 ounces. Johanna had secured a medical marijuana card six years prior to help with scoliosis and liver disease, and, later, a bout with breast cancer. Joe, who works in San Francisco as a door installer, had a medical marijuana card for back problems and arthritis. The couple grew their own pot in their home, and, based on the now-defunct law, "we had more than you were supposed to," Joe said. But it was grown solely as part of their annual supply of medicine, which they had documents to support.

After nearly two years of legal wrangling in Solano County Superior Court that swallowed the Azevedos' savings, the state Supreme Court finally issued a ruling on another case, California v. Patrick Kelly. Kelly had been convicted of illegal possession because he exceeded the limit. After the court overturned that conviction, the Solano County district attorney's office could no longer justify its charges against the Azevedos. A spokeswoman confirmed that their case was dismissed, based on the Kelly decision.

"It's a huge opinion," Figueroa said. "It will result in hundreds of cases getting dismissed in California." A fellow defense attorney (and medical marijuana card-holder), Tony Serra, said he had about a dozen cases that he expected would be dismissed.

But it seems that few, if any, of those cases will be dismissed by the San Francisco district attorney's office. Spokesman Brian Buckelew said the state Supreme Court ruling has nothing to do with people who hide behind medical marijuana while selling it to recreational abusers. Predominantly, those are the people the DA's office prosecutes, he said.

At the SFPD, a legal team is reviewing procedures for dealing with medical marijuana cases, spokesman Wilfred Williams said, and there may be changes based on the state Supreme Court decision.

As for the Azevedos, they aren't satisfied yet. "I'll celebrate when I get my stuff [marijuana] back," Johanna said.

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