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Probation Granted To 3 Who Grew, Sold Pot As A Medicine

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In a victory for advocates of medicinal marijuana, officers of a
defunct West Hollywood cannabis club were sentenced Monday to one year
of probation for growing and selling marijuana to hundreds of people
with cancer, AIDS and other serious ailments.

In imposing the minimum allowable sentence, U.S. District Judge A.
Howard Matz chastised the prosecution.

"To allocate the resources of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S.
attorney's office in this case baffles me, disturbs me," the judge
said.

Supporters of the defendants packed the Los Angeles courtroom as Scott
Imler, Jeffrey Farrington and Jeff Yablin were ordered to obey federal
drug laws, undergo random drug testing, and complete between 100 and
250 hours of community service.

Each had pleaded guilty to one felony count of a little-used federal
law: maintaining an establishment for the purpose of possessing,
distributing and manufacturing illegal drugs.

The men ran the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center until October
2001, when federal drug agents raided it and seized all their assets,
including 559 marijuana plants.

"It was never my intention or our intention to be scofflaws or
outlaws," Imler, the center's president and executive director, told
the judge before sentencing.

Imler, who has lung cancer, said he and the others tried to abide by
all state and federal laws when they opened the center in 1996, after
California voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that allowed
sick people to use marijuana.

Some experts believe that smoking or eating the drug alleviates the
pain and nausea caused by certain ailments and treatments, including
chemotherapy.

Despite state laws permitting marijuana use in certain circumstances,
the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law banning the
possession and distribution of marijuana trumps them. Besides
California, eight other states -- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii,
Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- have such laws.

Since the high court ruling, 45 Californians have been arrested on
federal charges for activities that are legal under state law,
according to the Americans for Safe Access, a Berkeley-based medicinal
marijuana advocacy group.

In reducing their sentences, Matz applied a rarely used doctrine known
as lesser harm, which says "a defendant may commit a crime in order to
avoid a perceived greater harm." (One common example is mercy killing.)

The judge noted that 85% of the center's 960 members have AIDS or are
HIV-positive; 10% have cancer; and the rest have various other medical
conditions.

"It is difficult to imagine a case where a defendant has contributed
to the distribution of a controlled substance for more humanitarian
reasons than what occurred here," his defense attorney, Ronald O.
Kaye, argued in court papers.

Prosecutors credited the men with helping them investigate a separate
drug case, in which a Bel-Air man tried unsuccessfully to use a
medicinal marijuana defense, and with not fighting the government's
forfeiture claims against their property.

Under federal drug forfeiture laws, authorities seized $56,000 in the
center's bank account and sold its building at 7494 Santa Monica Blvd.
for $1.2 million.

The city of West Hollywood and Wells Fargo Bank, which financed the
purchase, are trying to force the federal government to return a
portion of the money.



Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Webpage: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-pot25nov25,1,6796104.story
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Website: Los Angeles Times