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Chico Medical Marijuana Grower On Trial In Oroville

Herb Fellow

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OROVILLE -- Jurors heard testimony Thursday in Oroville for what may be Butte County Superior Court's first case to test a state law that allows individuals who use medicinal marijuana to form a collective and grow the plant for their own use.

Brett Eric Johnsen was arrested May 30 after sheriff's officers found marijuana plants hanging from a bedroom ceiling and in an elaborate garden they found in a locked basement at his house on West First Street in Chico.

The officers obtained a search warrant, and Johnsen wasn't home at the time, said A.J. Haggard, deputy district attorney.

Testimony Thursday hinged on how many plants were confiscated, the total weight, and who was growing the garden.

Defense attorney Jodea Foster contended his client was growing the plants as a member of a three-person cooperative.

State law allows people involved in a cooperative to grow eight ounces per patient, or up to six mature plants or 12 immature plants.

Under Haggard's questioning, Officer Jacob Hancock stated 31 plants were seized. He estimated the total weight at 7 3/4 pounds, although he said that estimate was based on the assumption of four ounces per plant.

Hancock described photographs taken by himself and Sgt. Stephen Collins of an elaborate growing setup in the basement that included high-watt light bulbs, timers, fans and exhaust tubes to regulate the temperature and stimulate growth. He also identified photos that showed the basement contained mature, flowering plants of various sizes. He estimated those ranged from 1 to 5 feet in height.

Hancock said when he questioned Johnsen at the scene, the defendant told him he was growing the plants with a friend named Simmons Flagg for their medicinal use. He also testified Johnsen showed him his physician's "recommendation" for a half-ounce a week.

According to the officer's testimony, Johnsen arrived at the house about an hour after deputies began the search. Flagg showed up about 30 or 40 minutes after Johnsen called him. Flagg showed Hancock his medical marijuana credentials and his physician's recommended use of 1 1/2 ounces a week, the officer said.

Hancock later testified on cross examination he heard there was a third person involved in the grow, and admitted he hadn't checked her credentials.

Foster questioned the method by which Hancock estimated the approximate weight of the confiscated marijuana and suggested he had neither used the actual federal guidelines, nor properly weighed the plants. Hancock answered he relied on federal Drug Enforcement Agency averages given in a 1991 or 1992 study, and on his experience in the field.

Foster also questioned the method in which the plants were counted. Sgt. Stephen Collins stated in his testimony that he counted 31 plants as he cut them down, but admitted he didn't take notes or records of each cut.

Foster later established during the defense case that the third person, Lisa Furr of Chico, was also a member of the collective. Furr said she became involved through Flagg. She also testified she arrived at Johnsen's house with Flagg the day of the arrest and showed Hancock her credentials.

Furr said she uses the herb for a brain injury and her physician recommends she use about a half-ounce a week.

Flagg testified he and Johnsen grew a crop of 12 plants last December and harvested it in March, and then began the garden found last May. Flagg's testimony also contradicted the total number of plants growing in the house. He said the plants found in the bedroom were not separate plants but were tops cut from plants growing in the basement. He said they had 12 plants total.

Both the defense and prosecution rested their cases. Closing arguments are expected today.

BACKGROUND: Chico resident Brett Eric Johnsen is on trial for cultivation of marijuana and storage of the plant. A third charge of cultivation for sale was dropped Thursday. Johnsen's attorney contends he was growing the plants with two other individuals as part of a cooperative, allowed by law.

WHAT'S NEW: The District Attorney's office presented its case that Johnsen was growing more than the legal amount allowed under SB420, in both number and weight, while the defense alluded through questioning that officers erred in their count of the plants and weight.

WHAT'S NEXT: The case may go to the jury today.

Source: Enterprise Record
Copyright: 2007 Chico Enterprise Record
Contact: Staff writer Barbara Arrigoni can be reached at 896-7757 or barrigoni@chicoer.com
Website: Chico Enterprise Record - Chico medical marijuana grower on trial in Oroville
 
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