SAN ANDREAS -- Two Wallace ministers who claimed to be growing marijuana
for people who had a legal right to it were ordered Wednesday to stand
trial for illegal cultivation.

Ricky Dewayne Garner, 42, and his wife, Sue Melinda Garner, 40, were held
to answer in Calaveras County Superior Court on charges of illegal
cultivation of marijuana, a felony.

However, Judge Nels Fransen ruled after a lengthy preliminary hearing the
Garners would not have to face a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the
delinquency of a minor.

The latter charge stemmed from law enforcement's belief that the Garners
permitted and encouraged their 15-year-old son to use marijuana. A doctor
testified she had prescribed marijuana to treat the boy's medical
condition, which she would not reveal.

Fransen ordered the Garners to appear in Superior Court on Jan. 8 for
arraignment on the cultivation charge.

Sue Garner said after the hearing she was pleased the misdemeanor count was
dismissed but said Fransen misinterpreted Proposition 215, which makes it
legal for people suffering from certain medical conditions to use marijuana
if they have a doctor's recommendation or approval.

The law also states that marijuana possession and cultivation laws do not
apply to legitimate patients or their primary caregiver, defined as the
person who has "consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health
or safety" of a patient.

The Garners' attorneys maintained their clients were assuming the role of
caregivers for more than a dozen people -- including some as far away as
Bakersfield -- by growing the marijuana on their property.

"We provided a healthy product from a safe environment -- or we would
have," said Sue Garner, referring to the fact that law enforcement agents
uprooted 290 marijuana plants they found growing on three different spots
on their property during a search in August.

Fransen, in making his ruling, said he questioned the Garners' ability to
serve as primary caregivers for those living hundreds of miles away.

Prosecutor Seth Matthews raised the same argument.

"What type of caretaking can be given to someone in that situation?"
Fransen asked. "Could you be a caretaker to my aunt in London?"

The Garners are ministers of the Northern Lights Church, a Universal
Life-affiliated church that believes cannabis is a "physical and spiritual
healing sacrament from times of antiquity," according to the church's Web site.

The Garners made no effort to hide their marijuana crop and in fact posted
signs alerting law enforcement officials that it was being grown for
medicinal purposes.

Sheriff's Deputy Gary Stevens testified that the amount of marijuana found
growing on the property was more than two or three -- or even five --
people needed for personal use.

But Stevens also testified that during the search of the property, agents
found written doctors' recommendations for the use of medicinal marijuana
for both Ricky and Sue Garner and 16 other people.

Stevens also testified that one of the people he interviewed following the
bust indicated that the Garners would not accept money for the marijuana
they provided him.

Stevens also testified that agents found no evidence that the Garners had
sold marijuana to anyone. Processed marijuana found inside the house was
packaged in a way that indicated it was for personal use -- not for sale,
Stevens testified.

However, Stevens said it was his suggestion during the raid that the
marijuana be eradicated because he believed it was too large a crop to be
grown for medicinal use.

When asked what he thought would be an acceptable number of plants for
someone to grow for personal medicinal use, Stevens replied, "Two to maybe
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
MAP posted-by: Jo-D

Newshawk: Jo-D and Tom-E
Pubdate: Thu, 21 Dec 2000
Source: Record, The (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Record
Address: P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201
Fax: (209) 547-8186
Author: Francis P. Garland, Lode Bureau Chief