Pubdate: Thu, 16 Dec 1999
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397
Author: Alex Breitler, Record Searchlight


In what could be a landmark medical marijuana case, a jury on Wednesday
acquitted a 49-year-old Redding man charged with growing pot for sale. The
verdict is the first of its kind in Shasta County -- and possibly
California -- since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, allowing the
possession, use and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes with a
doctor's approval.

And while defendant Richard Levin was all smiles after the verdict, he said
he's angry the case went this far.

"I'm extremely relieved that the truth came out," Levin said during a press
conference Wednesday afternoon at the office of his lawyer, Eric Berg. "But
there's a problem here. They (law enforcement) are denouncing the law."

The jury spent a little more than a day deliberating the case.

Levin was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1991. Two years later, while on a
contracting job, he slipped on the icy floor of a house he was helping to
build and fell three stories, requiring four back surgeries.

In fear of damaging his liver with heavy doses of prescription drugs, Levin
turned to marijuana in 1994, growing the drug in his back yard. He got an
oral recommendation from his doctor, Levin said.

Authorities arrested him May 6, 1998, after finding 41 seedlings in his
back yard and 1 pounds of packaged marijuana in Levin's bedroom.

Jim Clark of Redding, an alternate juror in the case, did not vote or sit
in on jury deliberations. But he witnessed the entire trial and said he
agreed with the jurors' final decision.

The prosecution failed to prove that Levin intended to sell the marijuana,
he said.

"If they (the prosecution) would have had somebody come forward and say,
yes, I bought from him," Clark, 44, said. "But all they could say was the
marijuana was processed for sale."

Clark said it would be difficult for him to convict Levin given the fact
that Proposition 215 doesn't place a limit on the amount of marijuana
patients can grow.

"The thing that they (prosecution) didn't have was a guideline for how much
you could possess," he said. "I couldn't send a guy to prison for violating
a law that really wasn't a law."

The prosecutor of the case, Deputy District Attorney Laura Sheehy, deferred
comment to District Attorney McGregor Scott.

Scott said he respects the jury's decision, and said his office will review
the verdict to see if it should change its stance on prosecuting medicinal
marijuana cases.

"I think it's safe to say that we'll review the jury's decision, we'll
analyze it and try to talk to them," he said. "If appropriate, we'll amend
the approach that we've taken."

Scott said Levin would have more pot than he needed once the plants matured.

"That was an amount far in excess of anything anyone would need for
personal use," he said.

But Berg, Levin's lawyer, said charges shouldn't be based on "some cop's
forecast about what they might have three months from now.

"They (law enforcement) claimed that the seedlings would turn into 20
pounds of dry marijuana green bud," but up to 30 percent of the plants
probably would have died before reaching maturity, Berg said.

Officials with the state Attorney General's Office said Wednesday that they
hadn't heard of any Prop. 215-related acquittals. Locally, less than two
dozen such cases have come before the district attorney's office since
Scott took office. One case was dismissed, another resulted in a guilty
verdict and the others in guilty pleas.

As for Levin, he says he'll have to talk with law enforcement officials
before going back to growing the marijuana that he believes he's entitled to.

"That's the big question," he said. "Are they going to leave me alone now,
or are they going to come to my house and arrest me again?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake