Medical marijuana: State wastes $100K when caregiver beats rap?

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Medical marijuana caregiver Josh Jones was recently acquitted after not one but two trips to court in relation to what law enforcers counted as 140 plants -- a figure Jones's attorney, Rob Corry, questions.

However, Corry has no doubt the prosecution of his client was an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars -- one that, by his estimate, exceeded $100,000.

The case "began with an anonymous phone call to the North Metro Drug Task Force -- actually multiple anonymous phone calls from a male," Corry says. "We don't know who he is, and probably never will. He supposedly gave them all these incriminating details about Josh, but he had the incorrect address."

Nonetheless, the task force managed to draw a bead on Jones's Westminster residence anyhow, running his Xcel and water bills before putting "the drug war industrial complex machinery in full gear" in January 2011, Corry continues. "They had sixteen SWAT officers with helmets, face shields, black uniforms, bulletproof vests and AR-15s -- but they didn't check with any government entities such as the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to see if this guy was a caregiver -- which he was.... MMED is supposed to keep a database of caregivers so we can avoid this type of thing."

During the raid, Corry points out that "Josh's dogs were injured, and they ransacked his house from top to bottom, breaking all kinds of things. He ended up losing the house because of all the damage done to it. And if they had known he was a caregiver, they could have simply knocked on the door and politely asked to see his plants -- and I'll bet he would have shown them to him, and all his paperwork, too."

Of course, that documentation probably wouldn't have satisfied them. Jones had three patients plus himself -- and since authorities tend to believe the maximum number of plants per person is six, they likely would have seen anything more than 24 plants to violate state law. But Corry sees this as a flawed approach. "The task force is operating under the fiction that people are limited in quantity for the number of plants they can have per patient, and the fiction that a person needs a red medical marijuana registry card, which is optional as far as an affirmative defense is required."

Besides, the doctor recommendations for the four patients listed the need for additional plants -- 25 in the case of three patients, an unspecified extra number for the fourth -- because Jones was making edibles for his patients, and they require more cannabis.

The officers didn't immediately seize Jones's plants, "but they did take clippings, which is how they tried to establish their count of 140 plants at trial," Corry says. "But we believe they didn't prove that count beyond a reasonable doubt. They claimed all of it was usable, but the majority of it was garbage -- destined, literally, for the garbage heap.

Page down to continue reading about the Josh Jones case. "Caregivers are in a tough bind: Where do you legally discard stems and things like that?" Corry asks. "You can't put them in the household garbage, for obvious reasons, and you can't really bring them to the dump or burn them in the municipality of Westminster or any incorporated area. So really the only option this guy thought he had was to bury it in his yard. He'd made a compost heap of sorts, but in January, that wasn't an option, because the ground was frozen. So he was trying to be responsible, saving this stuff up until the ground thawed, and they tagged him with two and a half pounds of dried marijuana. But even though some of it was usable -- far under half a pound -- it was packaged differently from the garbage. The good marijuana was nicely preserved in jars and the trash was in a trash bag sitting in a corner."

This past February, Jones headed to court in Jefferson County, but the session ended in a mistrial -- because, Corry says, the task force didn't release police reports in a timely manner. The matter went forward again in April, with the jury acquitting Jones -- and shortly thereafter, he was able to pick up the material that had been grabbed during the raid.

In the aftermath of this decision, Corry questions the decision to prosecute Jones in the first place. "Somebody should have looked at this in the DA's office," he says. "They put on six or eight witnesses, and because of the mistrial, they had to do it two times over. Plus they had all the SWAT officers doing the raid itself -- and these were high-level police -- and five to six days of solid courtroom time in district court, where they handle the more serious criminal cases, as opposed to county court. That had a very high cost. And then there's the cost to twelve jurors who were taken out of their jobs and lives for days. Given the case they had, the DA should have taken a closer look early on and declined."

Granted, Corry believes that "police really should ignore these kind of marijuana cases altogether. I have to think 95 percent of the marijuana grows in Colorado are medical -- especially these small, home-based things. So it's just a total waste of their resources. People like Josh Jones have all the paperwork, and they're making a lot of effort on the front end to make sure everything's done right -- so they're less likely to just fold and take a deal if they're arrested. If the drug task force is to exist, they should really focus on meth -- and regarding marijuana, they need to completely change their procedures, because they're not working for them.

"We're on a roll in my office," he goes on. "I think this is the third felony jury trial that's ended in a complete acquittal, and in the world of criminal defense in Colorado, where there's an almost 90 percent criminal conviction rate in general, that's almost unheard of."

So, too, was Jones's decision to have the new logo of Corry's law firm tattooed on his right arm.

"That's a first," Corry notes.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana update: U.S. Attorney John Walsh rejects safe harbor for MMCs."

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