Medical marijuana patient Chris Giaque thought he was covered. He had a doctor's recommendation, he had a medical marijuana patient's card, and he was carrying less than an ounce of marijuana. Under California's Prop. 215, or the Compassionate Use Act, as the resulting law is known, Giaque should have been safe from the tender mercies of the police.
Wrong. He was arrested after deputies found his medicine during a traffic stop in the Humboldt County town of Garberville in April 1999. When he protested, deputies added disturbing the peace and resisting arrest to his charge of illegally transporting marijuana. Welcome to the world of Sheriff Dennis Lewis, ardent defender of marijuana eradication in this county where growing has been a way of life for years.
Sheriff Lewis is so ardent that he took time off from the lucrative SWAT-style raids in which his department participates along with an array of state and federal anti-drug agencies, to tell a district judge to bugger off.
Last December, Judge Bruce Watson ruled on a motion from Giaque's lawyer, Eureka attorney Russ Clanton, to return his client's seized property, a tupperware container of marijuana. He granted Clanton's motion and ordered Sheriff Lewis to return the marijuana to Giaque. But when Giaque tried to retrieve his property, he was turned away.
"My position is that a state judge cannot order me to violate a federal law," Sheriff Giaque told the Eureka (California) Times-Standard last week.
Lewis and his attorneys had argued that federal law preempted California voters' ability to enact Prop. 215 and that "transporting" marijuana was a crime not covered by the language of medical marijuana law.
Giaque's attorney, Russ Clanton had a cogent response to Lewis' claim. "There is a technical legal term for his argument," Clanton told DRCNet, "and that term is 'bullshit.'" Sheriff Lewis is "on the wrong side of the law in a big way," said Clanton. "The judge ruled against him on that point and on the transportation. The judge ordered it returned because it's for personal, medical use, not for distribution. The court is enlightened and understands that the will of the people of California is not that carrying personal medical marijuana be considered contraband."
Now the hard-line sheriff faces the prospect of jail time himself.
"We've filed a motion with the court and Sheriff Lewis has been ordered to appear and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court," Clanton told DRCNet. "The hearing is set for April 13th. We expect them to ask for a continuance, but we will object."
Lewis and his attorneys have filed a motion in federal court in an attempt to escape having to comply with the California district court ruling, said Clanton, but that will not stop the pending ruling. "They didn't ask for a preliminary injunction to stop the court," said Clanton, "which sounds like a bit of bungling to me because there will be no federal ruling by then. Our matter will move ahead."
"He's ultimately going to be told that he has to obey the law," added the attorney. "What's going to be interesting is to see if the court here will feel pressured by the filing of that federal motion. If the court has any confidence in its previous ruling, Sheriff Lewis is going to find himself in a hard place."
For Clanton, Lewis is a vestige of the old order. "Dennis Lewis has a lot to lose in terms of money to fund his department, so he's trying to appeal to conservative elements. But this is the beginning of the end for that old way of thinking. The people of California have decided marijuana is not worth the trouble."
Now Sheriff Lewis, perhaps about to get a fresh perspective on his jail cells, has to decide if standing in the way of the California medical marijuana law is worth the trouble.