CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, December 23, 2007

State COurt Rules that People May Carry small Amount of Pot with Dr's Note

From A person who carries a small amount of marijuana with a doctor's note allowing medical use can't be convicted of dealing the drug just because police thought he was a dealer, a California state appeals court ruled Friday.

In overturning an Orange County man's conviction for possessing marijuana for sale, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana said the prosecutor needed more evidence of sales than the opinion of a sheriff's deputy who specialized in investigating narcotics dealers.

The defendant, Christopher Chakos, was arrested in December 2004 in Rancho Santa Margarita near the medical office where he worked as a phlebotomist, drawing blood for lab tests. Officers found seven grams of marijuana in his car, along with a doctor's note recommending pot for his pain and depression.

They found more marijuana, in varying amounts, in a search of his apartment, along with a digital scale and a closed-circuit camera system.

The marijuana totaled about 6 ounces, less than the 8 ounces that medical marijuana patients can possess under state law. But Chakos was convicted of possession for sale based on expert testimony by Deputy Christopher Cormier, who conducted the search and said he had concluded Chakos was a dealer. Chakos was placed on probation for three years.

Cormier based his conclusion on the exact amount of marijuana in the car, which he said was typical of dealers, and the presence of the scale and the camera system at the apartment, despite defense testimony that the camera system belonged to Chakos' half brother.

Cormier said he had taken part in more than 100 drug investigations, but acknowledged that none involved a medical marijuana patient with a doctor's note.

The appeals court relied on a 1971 state Supreme Court ruling overturning a possession-for-sale conviction of a man who was using Methedrine, a trade brand of a type of methamphetamine, with a doctor's prescription. The court in that case said the arresting officer, who concluded the man was a dealer, lacked experience in cases involving the medical use of otherwise illegal drugs.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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