Court drops marijuana case
Post Independent Staff
A district court dismissed a case against a former medical marijuana grower Thursday because mishandling resulted in the district attorney’s office not having enough evidence.
Judge James Boyd recently supported two defense motions to throw out picture evidence of more than 130 marijuana plants that law enforcement destroyed after they were seized from the Rifle apartment of Jennifer Ryan and three other people.
“We would like the court at this time to dismiss the charges against Ms. Ryan without prejudice,” said assistant district attorney Vincent Felletter.
The caveat means charges could be refiled against Ryan.
Last summer, the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team confiscated the plants from the apartment Ryan shared with ex-husband, Gene Brownlee, Brownlee’s nephew Justin Brownlee and Drew Gillespie. Each was charged with various counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Ryan’s case was unique because she is a state-certified medical marijuana grower. Legally she could have had up to six plants, with no more than three in flower, or as many plants as she felt necessary to treat a given medical condition.
State law stipulates that law enforcement must keep plants alive though the trial in medical marijuana cases. But the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team burned the plants, keeping only a leaf and picture of each as evidence.
The defense filed a motion, citing mishandling, that requested the pictures be inadmissible.
“What do we have left (as evidence)? We have a bunch of little clippings,” Felletter said.
Felletter decided to give up the case after meeting with TRIDENT and discussing the charges still pending against the Brownlees and Gillespie.
“We don’t want to do anything in this case that would jeopardize cases against the (other defendants),” he said, but declined to elaborate because those cases have yet to go to court.
“I didn’t see (Ryan) being the person most deeply involved in the criminal activity,” he added.
The picture evidence should still be valid in the cases against the other defendants, said TRIDENT chairman Lou Vallario.
The dismissal is timely, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that medical marijuana growers in states where the practice is legal could still face federal charges. Felletter and defense attorney Kristopher Hammond were confident Ryan wouldn’t face federal charges.
Both Felletter and Vallario defended TRIDENT’s handling of the evidence.
TRIDENT wasn’t aware of the law, “though admittedly we should have been,” Vallario said.
Even if TRIDENT had been aware of the law, it would have been challenged to comply since it basically requires law enforcement to cultivate marijuana.
“There’s got to be some practicality to it,” Vallario said.
Vallario doesn’t have a problem with marijuana as medicine but did say, the law “was not thought through. It’s not a good law.”
In the future, if TRIDENT has a case with medical marijuana it will likely have to take samples and pictures of the plants, but leave them with the growers.
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