Pubdate: Thu, 01 Apr 2010
Source: San Bernardino Sun (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Author:  Mike Cruz
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN BERNARDINO - A San Bernardino medical marijuana  patient is 
languishing in county jail as prosecutors  pursue charges against him 
for possessing and  cultivating the controversial drug.

Supporters of 51-year-old Don Lawrence say he was a  patient at the 
THCF Medical Clinic in Riverside when  police arrested him in October 
at his home. He had 12  marijuana plants, an amount police said 
exceeded state  guidelines.

Lawrence and his two adult sons were jailed, and they  all were 
released upon posting bail. But Lawrence was  taken into custody 
again Jan. 12 and his bail was  increased to $500,000. Prosecutors 
alleged he had two  prior offenses dating back to 1994 and 1987 - 
the  latter occurring more than 22 years ago.

"Twelve lousy plants. What the heck is going on here?"  activist 
Lanny Swerdlow asked during an interview.

Swerdlow is director of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition  Project, an 
Inland Empire-based medical marijuana  patient support group and law 
reform organization.

Lawrence's family members say he suffers from nerve  damage in his 
back and nephrosis of the kidneys, also  called kidney disease. 
Swerdlow called it "a travesty"  that Lawrence remains in custody 
while the case  proceeds.

Lawrence has a bail hearing scheduled April 9 in San  Bernardino 
Superior Court. The defendant is currently  represented by 
conflict-panel lawyer James Gass, but  new representation is being 
sought in San  Francisco-based lawyer Zenia Gilg.

"My intention is to make a motion to substitute in,  hopefully next 
week," Gilg said Thursday. She declined  to speak specifically about 
the case because she is not  the attorney of record.

Gass could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Gilg has represented clients in other medical marijuana  cases in San 
Bernardino County. Most recently, she  represented 66-year-old 
Richard McCabe, who was  arrested with his wife, JoAnn Cates, in 
August 2007 after deputies found a greenhouse containing 
120  marijuana plants in various stages of growth on the  couple's 
property in Johnson Valley.

Prosecutors dropped the marijuana-related charges  against McCabe and 
Cates just prior to a preliminary  hearing in March 2009 in Joshua 
Tree Superior Court.

Elijah Lawrence, the son of Don Lawrence, said his  father used to be 
transported by ambulance to get shots  at a local hospital. Since he 
started using medical  marijuana, Lawrence was able to stop getting the shots.

"He does a lot more smiling than he normally does,"  Elijah Lawrence 
said. "He seems like he's a happier  person. Otherwise, the pain has 
him grouchy."

A doctor at the THCF Medical Clinic gave the elder  Lawrence a 
recommendation to grow as much marijuana as  he medically needed, 
beyond the state guidelines of six  mature or 12 immature plants and 
8 ounces of processed  marijuana.

"But he still didn't do it, because he was worried  about the 
police," the defendant's son said. "He never  went over the limit at all."

Police allege Lawrence had 12 plants and two pounds of  marijuana 
which Swerdlow, who has been following the  case, says was allowable 
under the doctor's  recommendation to exceed the limit. Lawrence did 
not  have a state-issued ID card from the San Bernardino  County 
Department of Public Health.

In San Bernardino County, ID cards became available in  August 
through the county Public Health Department,  confirmed county 
spokeswoman Lynne Fischer. Patients  can call 800-782-4264 to set an 
appointment to fill out  the application, which is submitted to the 
state, she said.

The temporary moratorium on medical marijuana  dispensaries in the 
county is still in place through  June. County staff have been 
working to develop  appropriate guidelines, Fischer said.

Prosecutors say the issue of medical marijuana has not  yet been 
argued in court in Lawrence's case, and it was  not established as a 
defense at the Jan. 12 preliminary  hearing.

"The way it's charged, it's possession for sale of  marijuana," said 
Deputy District Attorney Rosa Clark.  "We are prosecuting it as a sales case."

Lawrence has been charged with cultivation and  possession of 
marijuana for sale and maintaining a  place for sale of a controlled substance.

"It's our burden to prove these charges beyond a  reasonable doubt," 
Clark said. An offer of a plea  bargain was presented to Lawrence at 
his last hearing,  and he has rejected all offers, she said.

Lawrence's family say police told them that they  spotted the plants 
when they looked over a neighbor's  gate into a rear yard of their residence.

The defendant was also growing outdoors for two other  patients at 
the time and harvests his crop only once a  year.

Lawrence's two sons, Elijah Lawrence, 18, and Sequwan  Lawrence, 21, 
were also arrested at the same time as  the defendant, because they 
were home at the time. The  sons remain out of custody on bail and 
have a trial  date set for April 12, according to court records.

Initially, prosecutors did not allege prior offenses in  the criminal 
complaint against Lawrence, Clark said.  But they were later alleged, 
after the preliminary  hearing, and Lawrence was taken into custody.

Lawrence was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon,  a firearm, 
in April 1994 in San Bernardino County and  robbery in October 1987 
in Los Angeles County,  according to the complaint.

If the bail hearing does occur at the defendant's next  appearance, 
prosecutors plan to argue against his  release or a bail reduction.
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