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Felony charges are dropped against a couple who grew "medicinal marijuana."

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A judge dismissed felony charges against a Temecula couple Monday in a case
their attorney said marks a dramatic shift in how Riverside County
prosecutes people who grow marijuana for medical purposes.

The husband and wife had been charged with cultivating marijuana and
possession for sale, which could have landed them in state prison for up to
32 months.

Following a two-minute hearing Monday, Riverside County Superior Court
Judge Rodney Walker dropped all charges against LaVonne Victor, 48, who
suffers from multiple sclerosis, emphysema, compressed back vertebrae and
panic attacks.

"Praise God," a teary LaVonne Victor said from her wheelchair outside of
court. "Christmas came early."

Martin Victor, 51, who suffers from cluster headaches resulting from
damaged optic nerves, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of providing
less than an ounce of marijuana to a roommate living at the couple's
Temecula home, a violation of the state's health and safety code. He said
the roommate took the marijuana without his knowledge or consent.

He paid a $100 fine and his conviction will be automatically expunged if he
violates no laws for two years.

"I spent $30,000 and three years to pay a $100 fine," he said. "I will
never own my home. My children will never own my home. Honest to God, I
have been an emotional wreck since this happened. When the police raided
the house, my life went away."

Even as they ended their legal battle with the county, the Victors and
their supporters hailed California legislators' attempts to clarify Prop.
215, the 1996 voter referendum that allows for the compassionate use of
marijuana but set no guidelines for how much is too much.

Senate Bill 420, which will go into effect Jan. 1, allows patients with a
doctor's recommendation to possess up to 8 ounces of dry bud and six mature
or 12 immature plants. The bill also allows for a voluntary registry of
medical marijuana patients with county health departments.

The Victors harvested 7.8 pounds of buds and placed it in 106 sealed jars
before their arrest.

Important case

The Victors' attorney, J. David Nick of San Francisco, said Monday's
disposition represented a "major shift" in the way Riverside County
prosecutes people who grow marijuana under Prop. 215.

"It's a watershed case in that they accepted the force of the law," Nick
said. "They moved into the category of benevolence and compassion."

Prosecutor Quinn Baranski and Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for District
Attorney Grover Trask, disputed the contention that prosecutorial standards
have changed.

They said the county will continue to prosecute medical marijuana growers
on a case-by-case basis.

Baranski said it was never his intention to send the Victors, who have no
previous criminal record, to prison.

"We wanted some acknowledgement of wrongdoing," Baranski said.

Wyatt said the county is still analyzing and reviewing SB 420. The district
attorney's office weighs several factors when deciding whether to file
charges against people who grow marijuana for medical uses, including their
illness, criminal history and amount grown, she said. County prosecutors
have tried about 10 medical marijuana cases since Prop. 215 went into effect.

Ongoing court battle

The Victors, who moved to Temecula in 1990, said they contacted Temecula
city officials and police before growing 12 marijuana plants at their home
near the Pechanga Resort and Casino. Martin Victor said he was told by
Temecula Police Chief Jim Domenoe that he could grow up to 15 plants.

Domenoe said he told Martin Victor the county had "no guidelines or
specific criteria" about how much marijuana could be cultivated for
medicinal purposes. He denied ever giving Victor permission to grow marijuana.

Acting on a tip, police raided the home in October 2001, seizing more than
21 pounds of marijuana.

The Victors maintained they didn't know how much marijuana the crop would

"I'm not a drug dealer," said LaVonne Victor, who worked for a hospital
manufacturing company before her health began failing in 1992. "I'm a
grandmother. I'm an ill person who gets relief from smoking marijuana."

David Herrick, a former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy who spent 29
months in prison for providing marijuana to Orange County patients, said
the Victor case is the latest in recent months in which medicinal growers
have received light sentences.

In June, a federal judge in Oakland sentenced a man who grew marijuana for
medicinal purposes to one day in jail.

Last week, another federal judge granted probation to three West Hollywood
men convicted of the same offense and lauded them for their humanitarianism.

Under federal law, growing and consuming marijuana remains a crime despite
the state's Prop. 215.

But Lanny Swerdlow, a Palm Springs activist and member of the Marijuana
Anti-Prohibition Project, said federal authorities will continue to crack

"The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) doesn't care what judges or the
voters of California think," he said.

Reach Joe Vargo at (909) 375-3730 or jvargo@pe.com

By JOE VARGO / The Press-Enterprise