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December 07, 2009

Worse Than I Imagined

Over the eight years I've been interviewing cannabis users, I've heard many second and third hand accounts of the unfairness and incompetence of the criminal justice system in its dealings with those suspected or accused of violating California's marijuana laws. My own experience in that area had certainly been frustrating, but also mercifully limited; I'd testified briefly at the disgraceful federal "trial" of Dustin Costa in Fresno three years ago, also at one Superior Court (state) trial in Woodland, near Sacramento.

Last Thursday, my trial experience was expanded in a way I could not have anticipated and am still finding difficult to accept. I traveled to San Jose to testify on behalf of a patient I'd first seen in April, 2002. I remember him particularly well because his history had been one of the first to suggest that cannabis has been used to treat anxiety for years. I'd seen him every year through 2007 for the required "renewals;" during that interval, he'd retired from his city government job in another Bay Area county. I later learned (from his attorney) that he'd been incarcerated for most of 2008 on cultivation charges because bail was originally set at a punitive $100,000. Ironically, he been in Elmwood, same jail where I'd examined another patient.

His attorney had called to ask if I would testify at his trial. I quickly agreed and have since waited out six months of the usual delays for it to actually begin. It's a court (non jury) trial that began with direct testimony intended to establish my eight years of clinical experience with over five thousand individual cannabis applicants. I had also entered a printed copy of the peer reviewed paper published in 2007 into evidence and given one to the prosecutor, who surprised everyone by interrupting my testimony with about five minutes to go with a request that the judge order me to supply all the raw data from that study. I had only about three minutes to point out that because the database is unique, and is in electronic form, his request would involve safeguarding the highly sensitive medical information of thousands of patients. If it were possible at all, it would be time consuming and expensive. It's probably just as well that didn't have time to add that, under the circumstances, his request both absurd and a confession of incredible arrogance.

On Saturday my patient's lawyer called to report that after meeting with both attorneys on Friday, the judge had decided to scale down the prosecution's request to three hundred or so redacted records selected from several different years of the study. I immediately decided that I would resist any such an order and was told I'd have to engage my own lawyer because his representation of my patient creates a conflict of interest

Such is the arcane state of medical marijuana prosecution in the Bay Area, renowned for its "liberal" attitude towards an initiative that's had the force of law for the past thirteen years. I went to court to testify pro bono as a good Samaritan and now must find my own lawyer.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 7, 2009 06:08 AM