|Photo: Mark Morey/Yakima Herald-Republic|
|Valtino Hicks waits for the jury to enter the courtroom, Thursday, March 25, 2011 during his trial in Yakima County Superior Court. He was accused of running a marijuana growing operation in his home.|
Yakima County, Washington’s first medical marijuana dispensary trial quickly ended in acquittal Thursday afternoon.
The Superior Court jury that heard the charges against Valtino Hicks of Yakima returned its verdict in less than 25 minutes, reports Mark Morey of the Yakima Herald-Republic.
At least two other local medical marijuana cases are pending, and the issue remains controversial across the state. King County, home of Seattle, has declined to prosecute marijuana dispensaries, and a bill advanced this week in the Legislature which would create a legal framework for licensed dispensaries.
The Yakima County prosecutor’s office had no immediate comment on the verdict or whether the outcome of the Hicks case would affect future prosecutions.
|Defense attorney George Hansen spoke with jurors “who indicated that they needed to see more from the state”|
Defense attorney George Hansen said he spoke with a few of the jurors, “who indicated that they needed to see more from the state.”
The jury returned its quick verdict despite the fact that Judge Rob Lawrence-Berrey barred any testimony regarding a medical marijuana card which Hicks said he had.
The prosecution claimed Hicks was responsible for a 201-plant growing operation at his home that far exceeded the 15-planbt limit for medical marijuana patients or providers. The plants were confiscated during a raid.
The defense called six witnesses who all said they were either medical marijuana patients or authorized providers for patients.
Hicks was described as a “passionate advocate” for medical marijuana who is continuing to take horticulture classes, and remains committed to the cause despite his legal problems.
In closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Leanne Foster claimed that Hicks’ viewpoint on the issue had “nothing to do” with the current law.
“Marijuana is still a controlled substance, whether Mr. Hicks likes it or not,” she arrogantly told the jury. Their 25-minute acquittal stands as an excellent answer to that.
Hicks was busted in March 2010 after the cops got a tip that a marijuana growing operation was being run out of a home where he lived with his mother in Yakima.
Hicks, who has drug convictions on his record, was arrested on charges alleging he was “manufacturing marijuana” and possessed it with intent to deliver.
Although Deputy Prosecutor Foster stressed the fact that Hicks had a digital scale, which she claimed was “common to drug dealers,” no evidence of illegal marijuana dealing was presented.
The home was promoted on a website as a place where authorized patients could get marijuana. Hicks’ mother, who was not called to testify, said in an earlier interview with the Herald-Republic that illegal drug dealers would rarely advertise on the Internet.
That website is still up, although a phone number listed on it was out of service Thursday.
The defense maintained that Hicks was doing nothing more than providing a place where other patients could grow marijuana. “There was no intent to deliver proven by the state,” Hansen told the jury.
Washington’s voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, but the law does little to provide patients with safe access to cannabis, according to advocates.
Under one interpretation of the law, large grow operations would be illegal even for medical purposes. But advocates counter that the state’s medical marijuana law is silent on that issue.
Greg Scott, a Yakima defense attorney who is handling two other medical marijuana cases, said cannabis is the only legal drug for which a doctor’s authorization is not a clearcut defense.
“I think the Legislature needs to clarify exactly what it is they will allow and what it is they will not allow,” Scott said.
If you’re unhappy with the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s office wasting taxpayer money prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers, you can email Prosecuting Attorney James P. Hagarty at [email protected].