After Defeats In Two Trials, Mullins To Work With Sheriff, Police Chiefs
On Guidelines

Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins, who has come under fire
for pursuing medical marijuana cases, said Thursday he will try to
establish guidelines that could result in fewer prosecutions.

After two high-profile trials that ended with acquittals, Mullins
remained unapologetic. But he said he wants to spell out how much
marijuana medical users can have, which could lead to fewer court cases.

"Hopefully, that would be the result," he said. "But I can't say
everyone will agree with the standards we adopt."

Mullins said law enforcement cannot ignore marijuana-growing nor let
people do what they want simply by claiming medical use.

Drug agents share the district attorney's oft-stated complaint that
Proposition 215, the 1996 initiative that allows marijuana use with a
doctor's approval, didn't explain how the system should work.

"If somebody would make a clear law, we'd be happy to follow it and
enforce it," Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Satterwhite said. "We're doing the
best with what we have, but that's the problem."

Mullins said he is unaware of how many pending criminal cases there are
involving defendants asserting some form of medical marijuana defense.

But Ernest "Doc" Knapp, a spokesman for the Sonoma Alliance for Medical
Marijuana, said he is aware of five, including a Geyserville man who was
arrested Thursday.

Knapp acknowledged there can be complicating factors in the cases, such
as a person not having the proper approval from a physician, the
presence of weapons or previous felony convictions.

He said Sonoma County authorities have gotten better, "but there's still
selective prosecution of cases, and I don't understand why. They
shouldn't go after these people for technicalities if they are sick and
dying."

Enforcement of Proposition 215 varies widely throughout the state. Some
communities issue identification cards to certified users, and some
allow clubs where marijuana is sold over the counter.

Sonoma County has taken a harder line, and some advocates have
threatened to try to unseat Mullins. But he ran unopposed in 1998, and
an opponent has yet to surface for 2002 with the primary less than a
year away.

Wednesday's acquittal of Kenneth Hayes and Michael S. Foley was the
second courtroom setback this year for Mullins, following the acquittal
of a man who claimed his 110-plant pot garden was for personal medical
use.

Hayes and Foley had nearly 900 plants at a rented ranch in Petaluma.
They said they provided marijuana to 1,280 members of a San Francisco
buyers club, which had the backing of city officials and San Francisco's
district attorney.

When Sonoma County Judge Frank Passalacqua heard that San Francisco
District Attorney Terence Hallinan would testify for the latest
defendants, he warned prosecutors they would not get a conviction. He
said the worst that could happen to the defendants was a hung jury.

The jury acquitted Hayes and Foley after less than five hours of
deliberations following the seven-week trial.

The recent verdicts are likely to affect how drug officers do their
jobs, but they say it won't stop them from arresting marijuana growers
or users who can't prove medical necessity.

"We want to use our resources most effectively," said Michael Heald, a
federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent who heads the county drug
task force.

"But to a large degree, it's out of our hands in Sonoma County," he
said. "We have to refer back to Sacramento. ... Every county is going to
have trials and different issues. The laws should be equal across the
board. Each county doesn't make up its own rules."

Mullins has repeatedly called on Sacramento for guidance on the issue
and says some cases have gone to trial to test the boundaries of the law
because there wasn't another avenue.

"When a statute is vague and ambiguous, it's important the Legislature
take a look at it to make it as uniform as possible, so we don't have to
decide it in front of juries," he said.

But following the acquittal of Hayes and Foley, Mullins said he wants to
work out guidelines with local police chiefs and the sheriff.

The county already has a policy for identifying medical users. It was
developed in conjunction with the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana
and has been revised at least three times after suggestions from the
advocacy group.

Mullins declined to say whether he will continue to prosecute cases or
to speculate whether juries will be willing to convict defendants who
assert a questionable medical claim. He said each case has its own set
of facts and needs to be evaluated separately.


Newshawk: MAP - Making A Difference With Your Help
Pubdate: Fri, 20 Apr 2001
Source: Press Democrat, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Press Democrat
Contact: letters@pressdemo.com
Website: http://www.pressdemo.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/348
Author: Clark Mason And Lori A. Carter
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal)