SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- An Exeter man, who was allowed to possess marijuana under the state's medical marijuana law, has admitted to drug possession in the first criminal case that would have tested the law had it gone to trial.

Steve Trimarco pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of possessing marijuana with intent to deliver in a plea agreement reached Friday in Washington County Superior Court. Nineteen other charges, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possessing a silencer, were dismissed under the deal.

The police accused Trimarco in October 2006 of luring teenage girls to smoke pot with him in his trailer at the Split Rock Trailer Park using his MySpace.com Web site. He has two Web pages that show him posing amid marijuana plants. "The best weed in Rhode Island," one states. "I'm a farmer."

The Web pages included messages and photographs from "friends," some of whom identified themselves as teenagers from North Kingstown, Exeter, Cranston and Johnston.

Trimarco, 50, refused to surrender when the police arrived at his trailer at 480 South County Trail in 2006, but was taken into custody after three hours of negotiations, the police said. The next day, the police entered the trailer with a search warrant, and seized 71 marijuana plants, a homemade silencer and four guns, including a Chinese assault rifle.

Trimarco, at the time, held a registration card from the state authorizing him to grow 12 marijuana plants and possess 2= ounces of the drug under the law enacted in January 2006 over Governor Carcieri's objections.

That year, Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize marijuana for people with medical conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and hepatitis C. The state police said Trimarco's case highlighted the potential for abuse of the law.

Trimarco suffered from hypertension, major depression, arthritis and Hepatitis C, according to court records. His card was revoked at the time of his arrest and will not be reissued, said Andrea Bagnall Degos, a Health Department spokeswoman.

His court-appointed lawyer, Kevin Dwyer, argued the charges should be dismissed because Trimarco carried a registration card and didn't know how much marijuana to grow to yield the amount allowed under the law. In addition, Dwyer said yesterday, only one of the plants was tested.

In objecting to those motions, Assistant Attorney General Craig V. Montecalvo argued that Trimarco possessed more of the drug than permitted and that he used it for illegal purposes such as selling it to and smoking it with school-age girls to gain their romantic or friendly favor. The case was hindered by the destruction of the plants the state believed to be marijuana, but had not been tested, Montecalvo said.

The state police destroyed the seized plants 12 days after his arrest because they became rodent infested and moldy, court records show.

"It made it difficult to prosecute this case to the fullest," said Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the attorney general.

The police originally charged Trimarco with marijuana cultivation and felony possession with intent to deliver, but those charges were amended to misdemeanor possession with intent under the agreement. Sixteen counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor were dismissed as were charges that he possessed methadone, a silencer and a firearm while committing a violent crime.

He received one-year sentences to be served concurrently for the two possession charges, but was given credit for the 15 months he served after his arrest.

In addition, Trimarco will give up all but one of the guns that were seized, Montecalvo said.

"We had some interest relieving the guy of his guns," Montecalvo said. Trimarco was ordered not to contact the eight teenage girls.

Dwyer said yesterday that the case proves the medical marijuana law, while well-intended, needs to be changed to provide a means for people to get seeds or the drug itself at a dispensary.

The Senate approved legislation Friday that would create "compassion centers" where chronically ill patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program could openly purchase the drug. That bill has been referred to the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee, but an identical House-generated bill has been stalled in committee, said House spokesman Larry Berman.

The attorney general's office disagreed with Dwyer's contention, saying no inferences could be drawn about potential weaknesses in the law because it wasn't tested in this case.

"We were prepared to argue that the statute is constitutional, clearly defines how much marijuana a cardholder may possess, and clearly expresses a legitimate public policy interest as intended by the legislature -- which is, namely, that people dealing with debilitating medical conditions should be allowed to use marijuana to treat or alleviate their pain," Healey said.

Montecalvo added: "He was doing exactly what he shouldn't do."

Source: Providence Journal, The (RI)
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