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Marijuana case may go up in smoke

Donna Gray

Defendants in a medical marijuana case could be off the hook thanks to destroyed evidence and a loophole in the law.Jennifer Ryan, along with her ex-husband, Gene Brownlee, Brownlee’s nephew Justin Brownlee and Drew Gillespie, is charged with various counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Ryan’s attorney Kris Hammond filed motions for sanctions against the prosecution with 9th District Court in Glenwood Springs. In the motions, Hammond said Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team officers destroyed the marijuana plants growing in the Brownlee and Ryan apartment, contrary to the law.On the night of the arrests, Aug. 2, the plants were taken to the county landfill and burned.Hammond quoted the medical marijuana law, Amendment 20 to the state constitution passed in 2000, saying that any property owned or used in connection with medical marijuana use cannot be destroyed, but must be held for the defendants and returned to them if the outcome of the case is acquittal.The four were arrested Aug. 2 at Brownlee and Ryan’s apartment at 545 Park Ave. in Rifle after TRIDENT staked out the house for three days.According to the affidavit to obtain a search warrant, the owner of the apartment building gave a caretaker at the apartments permission by to enter Brownlee and Ryan’s residence, when he smelled a chemical odor coming out of a dryer vent on the outside of the building. Upon entering the ground floor of the apartment, the caretaker saw more than 100 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, many of which were up to 4 feet high.Brownlee told investigators he could grow pot legally because he has terminal cancer. Ryan said she is a certified caregiver to five people using medical marijuana. According to the law, both medical marijuana users and their caregivers can possess up to six plants, of which no more than three can be in flower, or as many plants as they feel necessary to treat a given medical condition.In all, TRIDENT officers found 131 pot plants in the apartment.Hammond has asked presiding Judge James Boyd to dismiss the case. Boyd will hear arguments for and against the motions on March 24.Paul Rachesky, the court-appointed attorney for Justin Brownlee, brought up the matter of destruction of evidence in an arraignment hearing for his client in District Court on Feb. 10. He said the destruction of the marijuana plants “could be contrary to law and might dispose of this case.”Deputy district attorney Jeff Cheney, who is prosecuting the case, said the officers preserved one leaf from each plant before destroying them. He also acknowledged that the law “places a duty on law enforcement that the plants be kept alive,” which could be onerous given the number of plants involved.Cheney said the outcome of the hearing would have a bearing on the cases against the Brownlees, as well as Ryan. Gillespie has pleaded guilty to the charge.Ryan has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her trial will begin April 5.Hammond said there is no real case law with regard to medical marijuana, so these three cases will be a real test of Amendment 20.”We’re breaking new ground” with the case, Hammond said. “No one knows what’s going to happen, but I believe I have law on my side.”Hammond is also representing a client in Steamboat Springs, where he has his law practice.”The client was never charged (with) a crime and wanted the police to give the marijuana back, and they wouldn’t do it. I’m asking the court to find the police in contempt.”The case has been removed to federal court, where it’s been sitting for 11 months,” Hammond said. “Drug task force members, who are local law enforcement officers, have claimed that because they were deputized as federal agents, they answer to a higher god.”He also pointed out that the vagueness of the law is due to the fact that it passed as a citizen initiative rather than being framed in the legislature.”The law was a voter initiative and did not go through the legislative grinder where they think it through,” he said.


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