California medical marijuana pioneer Dennis Peron and two companions can breathe a bit easier after a Utah judge drove a dagger into the heart of the state's felony marijuana prosecution of the trio on April 21. Peron and his traveling companions were arrested at a Cedar City hotel in November 2001 after police claimed they smelled marijuana coming from their room, then forced their way inside, where they found enough pot to charge the trio with felony possession with intent to distribute, an offense carrying a five-year sentence.
But Fifth District Judge J. Philip Eves ruled that because police failed to obtain a search warrant when they forced their way into the hotel room, all evidence seized would be inadmissible at trial. So would evidence subsequently seized from the men's vehicle, since that seizure was based on the inadmissible evidence found in the hotel room, the judge ruled.
"All the officers needed to do was get a warrant when they first smelled the marijuana," Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett explained to the Deseret News. "Once something is obtained without a search warrant, everything obtained past that can't be used either. It doesn't matter if they went and got a warrant to search the car or not." Garrett said he would forward the ruling to the Utah Attorney General to review it for possible appeal, but barring an appeal he would move for dismissal of the charges.
Peron, who opened one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in California, coauthored California's groundbreaking Proposition 215, and angered more conservative movement comrades by arguing that "all marijuana use is medicinal," was on a sightseeing journey headed for Zion National Park when the arrests took place. "Our trip kind of got interrupted," he told the Deseret News. "When I first got busted in Utah I thought that it was the worst thing that could happen to me. But it's been the best thing. I've met a lot of nice people there. We are very happy this is over. It's been an interesting 35,000-mile journey," he said. "This case was about the Fourth and Sixth Amendments. The Fourth Amendment is put there to protect us from police coming into our homes or private rooms and conducting illegal searches. They had plenty of time to get a warrant, and they didn't do it."
Peron and his two companions all carried medical marijuana recommendations from California doctors. While Judge Eves had earlier ruled that the California recommendations carried no weight under Utah law, Peron had a solution for that. "You can work within the system and get this on the ballot. I grow my own marijuana. Why can't I go to Utah with my medicine?"