Pubdate: Sun, 7 Nov 1999
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Sacramento Bee
Address: P.O.Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852
Author: Wayne Wilson, Bee Staff Writer
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NOTE: The Sacramento Bee headline tells much about the editorial bias of the paper. This headline should read, "PATIENT GETS MEDICINE BACK AFTER ILLEGAL RAID"
DRUG CASE DROPPED -- MAN GETS HIS POT BACK
By Wayne Wilson, Bee Staff Writer
If you never thought you'd live to see the day police would have to return marijuana and guns to a person they had busted on drug charges, you should have been in Auburn on Wednesday at the Placer County Sheriff's Department.
Chris Jay Miller, 48, of Citrus Heights backed his pickup truck to the door of an evidence shed behind sheriff's headquarters and, with help from Sgt. Keven Besana, filled its cab and much of its bed with items that ordinarily would be considered contraband:
Bags and jars of marijuana and plant clippings, grow lights, hydroponic tubs, two revolvers, two rifles, a camouflage bulletproof vest, circulating fan and other gadgets, most of them used in the cultivation of pot.
All the property had been seized March 18 when five officers from Placer County served a search warrant issued in Sacramento on Miller and his wife, Penny, at their Victory Lane residence in Citrus Heights.
As Miller recalls it, "They came in in SWAT gear and with a military mind set."
Both Millers were arrested when the invading officers discovered five marijuana plants and a dozen clones 6 to 8 inches tall being watered by a drip system and nourished by heat from two 1,000-watt grow lights in a wood-frame outbuilding.
Miller said that when he explained he was growing the pot legally under provisions of Proposition 215, the initiative passed by California voters in 1996 authorizing the compassionate use of marijuana for medical purposes, he was asked:
"Are you dying of cancer or AIDS?"
And when he replied, "No," an officer informed him, "Then Proposition 215 doesn't apply to you," Miller said.
But in the months and investigation that followed, the Placer County district attorney concluded that Miller may, indeed, meet Proposition 215's guidelines.
He has been using marijuana to fight chronic pain, muscle spasms and arthritis as an alternative to addictive pain killers prescribed to him for more than 10 years following a series of disabling car and motorcycle accidents.
Based on the "severity of the defendant's medical condition" and his possession of a written recommendation by a licensed physician, prosecutor David H. Tellman on July 19 persuaded the court to dismiss all charges against Miller.
Out $15,000 in legal fees and disturbed by the trauma inflicted on his wife and their 11-year-old daughter, who happened to be seated at the kitchen table when police burst into their home, Miller said he "got a raw deal" and intends to pursue the possibility of a lawsuit.
"Medicinal marijuana works," Miller declared Wednesday. "It's not a hoax, it's not a joke. It works. Society is just going to have to accept it. In fact, I think society has accepted it but law enforcement hasn't."
After petitioning the court for return of his property, and winning, Miller collected his pot, guns (described in court papers as family heirlooms passed on to him by a great-uncle in 1985) and grow gear and drove out of the sheriff's evidence enclosure to the congratulations of medical marijuana advocates and applause from neighbors who had gathered to watch the process.
Sgt. Besana, a member of the county's marijuana eradication team and one of the five officers who participated in the original search and arrest of Miller, handled the exchange good-naturedly and offered some pointed observations about Proposition 215.
"It's frustrating," he said, "both to police and to the people on the other end."
There are no clear guidelines to what is acceptable -- and what isn't -- under the Compassionate Use Act, but he said law enforcement can't ignore the threat posed by marijuana.
"It's the number one drug in the inner schools," he declared.
Since its passage in November 1996, implementation of Proposition 215 has been left up to the individual counties, creating a confusing, often contradictory approach to a law that the state has adopted but which is contrary to federal drug policies.
No one pretends to know exactly how many plants are acceptable to meet the medical needs of any one individual, and jurisdictions throughout the state are applying different standards.
In Oakland, medical users may keep up to 144 indoor plants or 60 outdoor plants.
In Marin County, the District Attorney's Office said it would not prosecute anyone growing fewer than six mature or 12 immature plants.
And in Placer County, prosecutors refuse to set limits.
Even in his request for dismissal of the Miller case, Deputy District Attorney Tellman made it clear that his application "is not intended to signal any opinion or position . . . regarding the acceptable number of plants or quantity of processed marijuana which may be possessed by a medicinal user."
Miller said he accepts the court order returning his belongings to him as a clear victory for Proposition 215.
"It's telling the law they have to follow the law," Miller said. "I've gotten my property back. The system works."