Pubdate: Thu, 01 Feb 2001
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Marin Independent Journal
Contact:  150 Alameda del Prado, Novato, CA 94949
Author: Richard Halstead


A Greenbrae man walked into Twin Cities police headquarters in Larkspur 
yesterday and left with 14 mature marijuana plants and about seven ounces 
of dried pot.

A court order issued by Marin County Judge Verna Adams required police to 
return the marijuana, which was confiscated from the home of Robert Voelker 
on Aug. 2.

The Marin District Attorney's Office dropped charges against Voelker last 
month after a lengthy investigation. Assistant District Attorney Edward 
Berberian said the charges were withdrawn because, after his arrest, 
Voelker was able to secure a legitimate doctor's recommendation as required 
under Proposition 215.

Voelker, a construction worker, says he uses marijuana to ease back pain.

"I understand it's not easy for them," said Voelker's attorney, Lawrence 
Bragman, referring to the police. "It's definitely a paradigm shift."

"This is the first time the county has ever returned pot to a patient," 
said Lynnette Shaw, founding director of the Marin Alliance for Medical 

Twin Cities Police Chief Phil Green said he consulted with Tom Bertrand, 
the department's attorney, before complying with the order.

"He said we have no option but to return the marijuana, all of it, 
everything that we seized," Green said. He noted that police did not 
confiscate six other plants and a half-pound of dried marijuana when they 
raided Voelker's trailer home in August. Voelker was allowed to keep that 
marijuana in an effort to follow the policy laid down by the District 
Attorney's Office, Green said.

In September 1999, the District Attorney's Office issued guidelines to 
local law enforcement agencies to give them some idea under what conditions 
it would prosecute individuals for marijuana possession and cultivation if 
they have a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana.

To avoid prosecution under the guidelines, individuals may have no more 
than six mature (budding or flowering) plants, or 12 immature plants, or a 
half-pound of dried marijuana.

Even though the amount of marijuana returned to Voelker yesterday exceeded 
these limits, Green said he didn't check with the District Attorney's 
Office. "That is because I don't think the guidelines mean anything," Green 

Berberian, who was not available for comment yesterday, has said that his 
office's guidelines provide minimum standards but no guarantee of prosecution.

This was the second time that Voelker's home had been raided by Twin Cities 
police, and the second time that the District Attorney's Office didn't 

In 1998, police confiscated 31 marijuana plants and three pounds of dried 
pot. When the District Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute, Voelker 
filed a $30,000 claim against the police to get his plants back and a 
$5,000 small claims suit. Both were rejected and his plants were never 

District Attorney Paula Kamena faces a recall election in May due in large 
part to the efforts of Shaw, who spearheaded an effort to gather nearly 
14,000 valid signatures to force the special election. Shaw contends Kamena 
has not complied with Proposition 215, which legalized the medical use of 

Twin Cities police Officer Jim Shirk said that if Voelker's 16 plants been 
allowed to fully mature they could have produced 48 to 80 pounds of useable 
marijuana or roughly 88,000 marijuana cigarettes. But Voelker's estimate is 
much lower - only seven to 10 pounds of dried marijuana.

"I don't think Robert was taking advantage of anything other than 
exercising his rights under the law," Bragman said.
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