Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jul 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Dana Parsons
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Marvin Chavez Used Marijuana for Pain Relief and Ended Up in Prison. 
Now He Hopes to Set Up a New Medical Pot Group.

I hadn't talked to Marvin Chavez since an Orange County jury 
convicted him in 1998 of selling marijuana. He was fuming about it 
then, and he's fuming now.

Come to think of it, prison isn't really a place where people go to 
cheer up. Especially if you think you were convicted on bogus 
charges, as Chavez claims. Of course, I can't read his mind, can't 
know if he really was innocent or was just pulling some grand scam.

But, he says, he turned his time (about three years of a six-year 
sentence) into a test of one's self and came out whole.

And what better time to hook up again than the week when the Orange 
County supervisors agreed to a plan that would license the medical 
use of marijuana and issue licenses to patients who qualify. Chavez 
was in the board room when it happened Tuesday, back in the same 
jurisdiction that sent him to the slammer way back when.

Which is what I asked him Wednesday afternoon as he relaxed in his 
Santa Ana home: Does it seem like a long time ago?

For starters, he says, Orange County has a new district attorney and 
a new sheriff. When Chavez ran afoul of the law, the sheriff was Brad 
Gates, who headed a statewide coalition against Prop. 215, the 
initiative California voters passed in 1996 that allowed medical use 
of marijuana. Then-Orange County D.A. Michael Capizzi also opposed the measure.

Chavez was vocal and public in his support. A victim of spinal 
ankylosis, a condition that causes the vertebrae to fuse, he used 
marijuana for pain relief and made no secret of making it available 
to other sufferers.

He insists he never sold it to anyone who didn't need it, and only 
took money as a donation to an organization he'd set up to coordinate 
his efforts. The D.A.'s office saw those donations as sales, also 
alleging that Chavez was cultivating much more pot than needed to 
tend to the sick.

Chavez headed to prison in January 1999.

That was then, and you might figure Chavez, now 51, might be out of 
the cannabis club business.

No, ma'am. In the wake of the supervisors' decision, he hopes to set 
up a new organization as a local clearinghouse for medical marijuana 
information and, eventually, making it available to those who 
qualify. As with his previous organization, Chavez says, he would 
only ask for donations from those who could afford it.

Deja vu all over again?

"I paid my dues," Chavez says, "and I've got too many members [from 
the previous club] that I don't want to be forgotten or to have died 
in vain. I've spent too many years on this just to give it up now."

He speaks with the same verve that I recall from years back. He says 
his passion stems from two things: a desire to ease people's physical 
pain and his sense of justice.

I ask if he can accept that local authorities in the late 1990s 
genuinely believed he was a garden variety drug-dealer. He refuses to 
believe it, noting that his attorney asked an undercover cop at trial 
if he'd ever heard of a drug-dealer who handed out membership cards, 
donation slips or, on some occasions, free pot if people couldn't 
afford to buy it.

Apparently not swayed by that, the jury convicted him of two felony 
sales charges, while knocking down several other felonies to misdemeanors.

Chavez says the trial was all about the drug wars in a notoriously 
conservative county. "I received kangaroo justice," he says. "I was 
blackballed, was a political football, whatever description you want 
to come up with."

He says he sought meetings with both Capizzi and Gates back then, 
even leaving literature with the sheriff on marijuana and its various 
uses. That'd be pretty dumb for someone who was selling pot illegally, he says.

Orange County is still conservative, making the board's decision this 
week mildly surprising, even as it basically implements a state 
Senate bill signed into law in 2003. But with a sheriff who has been 
much more progressive on marijuana matters than was Gates, the county 
probably reflects the rest of the country in loosening up on the subject.

So, it's full speed ahead for Chavez, planning to be just as 
outspoken as ever. At some point, he'll be giving out cannabis again. 
Obviously, someone will be watching him.

As he once thought in the late 1990s, he thinks his visibility should 
ease any law-enforcement fears. "It'd be stupid on their end or it 
would show how dark or negative they are, to do anything to me," he 
says. "There's no reason for that, when everyone puts everything on 
the table. Why would you throw this person in prison, unless you're a 
totally negative person, evil, period?"

For now, he has the sense that times have changed. The supervisors' 
vote was 4-1.

How did it feel to hear the vote go his way?

"I felt good. It picked up my spirits and I thought of all the 
members I'd lost and said, 'We did it, guys.' It was about time, you know." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake