SAN ANDREAS -- Two Wallace ministers charged with cultivating marijuana have
been placed on probation as part of a plea-bargain -- the same deal that a
Calaveras County Superior Court judge accepted and later rejected because he
said it was illegal. The Rev. Ricky Dewayne Garner, 43, and the Rev. Sue
Melinda Garner, 40, ministers with Northern Lights Church, agreed to the
plea-bargain the district attorney's office offered during a court hearing

The Garners had accepted the same offer in May -- pleading guilty to
misdemeanor marijuana possession in exchange for dropping a felony
cultivation charge and obeying all laws. The probation terms stated that the
Garners must abide by Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana
for medicinal purposes, and the county's own medical-marijuana guidelines.

Judge Douglas Mewhinney signed off on that plea-bargain, but the following
day he called the Garners' attorneys and the district attorney's office and
said he feared the probation terms that pertained to the Garners' ability to
grow and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes were illegal in light of a
recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

For that reason, Mewhinney ordered the Garners to return to court so he
could change some of their probation terms. He then gave the Garners the
option of accepting the new terms or withdrawing their guilty pleas and
proceeding to trial. The Garners chose the latter course.

But when the district attorney's office exercised its right to disqualify
Mewhinney, discussions ensued about reviving the original plea-bargain
terms, said Adam Gasner, Ricky Garner's attorney.

The two sides agreed to the original terms, and when the Garners appeared
Tuesday in court for a pretrial conference, assigned Judge Richard McMechan
accepted those terms and sentenced the Garners.

The Garners must adhere to the county's medical-marijuana guidelines, which
allow those with a doctor's recommendation for medicinal-marijuana use to
possess up to 2 pounds of marijuana and six plants. The same limits apply to
those who are considered caregivers under Proposition 215.

The Garners maintained they were caregivers for more than a dozen
medicinal-marijuana patients and they were growing marijuana on their
Wallace property for that purpose. The Garners did not try to hide their
crop, which was eradicated by law enforcement last year. The Garners could
not be reached for comment on the case Wednesday.

Gasner said the Garners believe the plea-bargain "is a most equitable
result," because their probation terms and conditions "explicitly allow them
to grow marijuana per the county's guidelines.

"They felt if they had gone to a jury trial, they probably would have been
acquitted," Gasner added. "But they would have been left in the lurch as to
what is lawful and not lawful conduct.

Newshawk: David Jack
Pubdate: Thu, 9 Aug 2001
Source: Record, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Record
Author: Francis P. Garland, Lode Bureau Chief
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)