PERRIS, CA -- A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered a Temecula couple
to stand trial on charges of possessing marijuana for sale and cultivation
of the cannabis plants they say they grew for medicinal purposes.

Martin and LaVonne Victor embraced in sobs outside the courtroom Friday
morning after Judge James Watson's decision.

"I'm not going to jail; I'll kill myself first," said LaVonne Victor, 45,
who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Her husband was surprised by the ruling.

"My God, all I did was want to take care of my wife," Martin Victor, 50,

The couple was in court Friday for the third day of a preliminary hearing
that started in late August and then was delayed for nearly a month.
Watson ordered the couple to appear for an arraignment on the felony
charges in the Hemet courthouse on Oct. 11.

The Victors' West Hollywood-based attorney, Eric Shevin, said after court
Friday that his clients will prevail. "The universe protects good people
and the Victors are good people; it's hard to see the light at the end of
the tunnel, but we are going to find it," he said.

The Victors are among those who have received written authorization from
doctors to use marijuana under Proposition 215, a 1996 California
initiative that legalized the use of medicinal marijuana.

A Santa Barbara doctor had written letters in August 2001, authorizing the
Victors to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Dr. David Bearman testified during the August portion of the preliminary
hearing that he had approved the legal use of marijuana for Martin Victor,
who was diagnosed with optical edema. LaVonne Victor received letters
authorizing legal marijuana use after being diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis and panic attacks.

Each county in the state sets its own standard on how much people are
allowed to grow under Prop. 215. Riverside County allows the amount
possessed to not exceed that necessary for medicinal purposes. The county
does not specify, however, what amounts would fit into the "necessary for
medicinal purposes" description.

However, during Friday's hearing, the Deputy District Attorney Cynthia
Brewer said that the defense had admitted the couple used only 6 ounces of
marijuana a month between them -- which over a 12-month period would equal
about one-fifth of the amount deputies are alleged to have found in the
couple's home in the October raid.

Temecula Police Chief Jim Domenoe testified that he had spoken with Martin
Victor twice nearly a year before the couple's arrest, when Victor called
to make inquiries about what he needed to do before growing marijuana at
his home, and to get clarification about enforcement policies.

Domenoe said he told Victor during the first call that he was uncertain
what the implications of Prop. 215 were for the Victors. And in a second
call, a few days later, he said, he told Victor that while state law might
allow him to have the marijuana, federal law was another matter, and if a
federal agent saw the plants, he could be subject to arrest.

"What criminal in their right mind would call the police and tip them off,
before they go out and commit the crime?" Shevin asked after Friday's
hearing, implying the Victors truly believed they were not breaking the

When deputies raided the couple's home in October, Brewer said, they found
15.7 pounds of marijuana in mason jars, 6.2 pounds in trash bags and eight
plants being cultivated on the couple's property. Of those eight plants,
five had buds that could have been harvested to bring in another
half-pound of marijuana apiece, she said.

A handful of supporters and at least one marijuana advocate showed up in
support of the Victors at Friday's hearing.

Lanny Swerdlow of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project was outraged at
the decision. "They were legitimate marijuana users; nothing was offered
as evidence of sales," he said. "The judge is bending over backward to
kiss the butt of (Riverside County District Attorney) Grover Trask."

Author: William Finn Bennett
Source: North County Times
Pubdate: Saturday, September 28, 2002