Cases against 6 arrested in medical marijuana sting are dismissed

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has dropped the criminal cases against six local people arrested after a two-month investigation of mobile medical marijuana collectives ended with a sting and arrests in December 2010.

Judge Barry LaBarbera on Tuesday dismissed the cases against Christopher and Amy Austin of Paso Robles, as well as David and Valerie Hosking, Steven Gordon and Thomas Sandercock, all of Pismo Beach.

LaBarbera had composed jury instructions that essentially would have made the prosecution’s case difficult to prove, said attorneys for both sides of the case.

The instructions stated that the defendants’ defense attorneys could show the collective reasonably expected the undercover San Luis Obispo police detective (who posed as a medical marijuana patient willing to pay for the drug) to provide the collective with “labor, resources, or money” to cultivate marijuana for medical use.

Proposition 215, approved by California voters in 1996, allows the growing and distribution of marijuana for medical use that has been approved by a physician. However, law enforcement agencies generally have opposed the law’s implementation, and frequently claim the drug is being used for recreational rather than medicinal purposes.

Defense lawyer Patrick Fisher who has represented some of the people involved in the bust, said LaBarbera’s decision makes sense.

“The law shows that, as long as someone has a medical marijuana recommendation (from a doctor), then you can get it from a collective,” Fisher said.

The prosecution’s view of the law is that someone with a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana should have to contribute to the growing operation when they’re a member of a collective.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen said he plans to appeal LaBarbera’s decision on the six cases for clarification on the law.

Twelve local medical marijuana providers were arrested at multiple locations on the Central Coast as part of a San Luis Obispo County Narcotics Task Force operation involving an undercover officer posing as a medical marijuana patient in 2010.

Fisher said that while he’s happy with LaBarbera’s decision, the pending appeal puts his clients in “legal limbo.”

The defendants can’t recover their property seized as evidence — including money, computers and medical marijuana — until the case is resolved.

But Fisher said he believes the decision sets the tone for future considerations by law enforcement officials about how to handle medical marijuana collectives.

“I think what this showed is that there are a lot of people in this county who weren’t up to speed on medical marijuana law,” Fisher said. “Other counties, such as Marin County, are much more knowledgeable.”

Despite LaBarbera’s ruling, San Luis Obispo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said prosecutors wouldn’t be dissuaded from considering charges in the future involving collectives if they feel a law has been broken, saying decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.