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Couple Cry Foul Over Federal MMJ Arrest

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The medical marijuana confrontation between California and the U.S.
government took a dramatic turn this week when two people were
arrested on federal charges as they sat in a Tehama County courtroom.

David Dean Davidson and Cynthia Barcelo Blake were waiting for their
attorneys to finish a meeting in the judge's chambers after Deputy
District Attorney Lynn Strom had announced at the Tuesday hearing
that she would seek a dismissal of charges against the pair for
cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana.

When the prosecutor, who requested the meeting in chambers, left the
courtroom with the defense attorneys and the judge, sheriff's
deputies ordered the defendants into the hall, handcuffed them and
told them they were under federal arrest.

At the same time, the county prosecutor informed the judge and
defense attorneys that the pair had been indicted five days earlier
by a federal grand jury in Sacramento. When the defense attorneys
rushed back to the Corning courtroom, their clients were gone and
they were informed by a deputy that the pair were on their way to
jail in Sacramento.

Deputies had taken Davidson and Blake out the back door of the
courthouse and placed them in an unmarked car.

As he was being handcuffed, Davidson said, he told a deputy he wanted
to see his lawyer. "He told me, 'You don't have a lawyer. Your case
was dismissed,' " Davidson said Friday at a news conference in front
of the U.S. courthouse in Sacramento shortly before he and Blake were
arraigned on the federal charges.

The pair are charged in the federal indictment with conspiring to
grow at least 1,000 plants, possessing marijuana with the intent to
distribute, and manufacturing at least 100 plants.

If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison.

California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act legalized medical marijuana
on a doctor's recommendation. The law has pitted state and some local
officials against federal drug agents and the current
administration's zero-tolerance pot policy.

Davidson, 53, and Blake, 54, use marijuana on the recommendation of
physicians to alleviate pain, depression and insomnia, they said.
Both said they had never been arrested before their July arrest on
the state charges.

Davidson is a retired businessman who lives in Oakland. Blake worked
16 years for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. She took
disability leave in April and now lives in Red Bluff.

They appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows on
Wednesday and were ordered released on $50,000 bail each. Davidson
said they were processed out of the downtown jail in Sacramento about

"It was a nightmare come true," Davidson said of the ordeal.

Their attorney, J. Tony Serra, had stronger words.

Strom "knew she couldn't win," Serra asserted. "So, she concocted
this terrible, illegal, underhanded scheme to separate David and
Cindy from their attorneys and transition them into federal
jurisdiction, where she knows that medical necessity is not a defense.

"The U.S. attorney's office should never have taken this case. David
and Cindy have never sold marijuana. They grow it strictly for their
own medical use," Serra added.

The veteran defense lawyer cited a decision last month by the 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- the highest court in the West --
that personal cultivation and use of medical marijuana in a state
like California, which permits such activities, can be outside the
control of federal authorities.

The appellate court's rationale would apply to those who grow their
own pot or obtain it from local grower-caretakers without involving
interstate commerce.

Serra insists that Davidson and Blake fit that profile.

Tehama County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Skillman disputed
Serra's characterization of Tuesday's events.

"Typically, this case would be taken by the federal government
because it is multijurisdictional, in that the evidence was gathered
in two counties, Tehama and Alameda," Skillman said in a telephone
interview. "And, there has been a federal presence from the
beginning. Federal agents were involved in the search (of Davidson's
residence) in Alameda County.

"There were more than 62 pounds of processed marijuana and 1,803
plants seized at the two locations. So, we were not too concerned
about any kind of medical marijuana claim. They could have supplied
the entire West Coast."

The number of plants and amount of marijuana seized is contested by
Serra and two other defense lawyers.

Serra said the amount charged is "ludicrous," and was inflated to
achieve the specter of a very long sentence and "manipulate us into
some kind of plea bargain. This is a political case, and it will be

Skillman confirmed the circumstances of the arrest but said the
defense lawyers' presence "would not have made a difference."

Besides, he said, Davidson and Blake had no constitutional right to
counsel in the federal case prior to their arraignment.

The pair were first arrested July 29 when Tehama County sheriff's
deputies raided Blake's home in Red Bluff, where Davidson was
visiting. When asked by officers if there was marijuana at his
Oakland residence, Davidson told them there was.

"When I got home, the front door was standing open and the place had
been ransacked," he said Friday.

By Denny Walsh -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Saturday, January 17, 2004