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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Investigation Delays Prosecution in Pot Case

Drugs: District attorney's office postpones arraignment and is uncertain whether it will charge two couples accused of growing marijuana.

September 14, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arraignment for two couples accused of growing 342 marijuana plants in Ventura County's back country was postponed on Wednesday because prosecutors haven't yet decided how or even whether to charge them.

"There's additional investigation," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Redmond, who supervises felony prosecutions. "Until that investigation is completed, we're not in a position to determine what to charge or whether to charge." A new arraignment date was set for Oct. 25.

Lynn and Judy Osburn, Mark Davison and Carol Jo Papac were arrested last month after authorities raided a ranch in the Lockwood Valley where the foursome said they were growing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The plants were seized along with personal property, such as computers, the couples said.

Californians who are ill and receive a doctor's permission have the right to use small quantities of pot to treat medical symptoms under the state's medical marijuana law, Proposition 215. But the law has faced legal challenges since its passage because of its ambiguities.

"The issue [Proposition] 215 never resolved is, what happens when a collective of patients harvests for a group," said lawyer John Duran, who was hired by the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center to represent the couples.

Duran argues that his clients should be protected by the law despite the large number of plants seized, because they were supplying the resource center, an organization that provides marijuana to more than 800 medicinal users in the region. The four suspects are members of the organization.

Papac, who suffers from a painful back problem and a thyroid condition, said Wednesday she is angry about the delay because she is waiting to get her plants back. "We're patients and we want our medicine," she said.

The Osburns, longtime activists who have written a book about the use of marijuana in religion, said that they were finishing up another writing project, a legal defense manual on federal forfeiture laws, when the raid occurred. Computers and data storage disks that contained the manual's text were seized from the couple's home, which is on the ranch property.

Local authorities are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court, which is preparing to consider a case involving Proposition 215, either throws out the law or gives local law enforcement authorities clearer direction on how to enforce it. Until then, they have said they would decide who to prosecute on a case-by-case basis.

They have pursued a handful of other professed medical marijuana users since the law's passage four years ago. Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury sued medicinal user Andrea Nagy to force the shutdown in 1998 of her Thousand Oaks cannabis club, the only medicinal club in the county. That same year, police in Simi Valley seized 14 plants from a retiree. Prosecutors dropped charges against Rex Dean Jones after confirming he was a qualified medical marijuana patient. Jones recently tried unsuccessfully to sue the Simi Valley Police Department for false arrest.

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