By Terrie Best – San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator
San Diego CA – Medical cannabis patient and collective operator, Ronnie Chang’s ordeal with the federal government will come to an end on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, after spending over a year behind bars in federal custody awaiting a trial that was to have started next month.
Ronnie, connected to Club One Collective/Extreme Holistic Care, formerly San Diego Dispensary Services with his attorney Michael J. McCabe, has been in and out of court in both the California system and – when charges were dropped and picked up by the U.S. Justice Department – in federal court for a series of hearings which began in 2009 when Club One was raided. The SWAT style raid was conducted by San Diego District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis’ cross deputized Narcotics Task Force in her fight against the public safety that safe access to medical cannabis contributes to San Diego County.
Ronnie’s co-defendants have long since either reached plea deals or, in the case of Hal Pilotte, had charges dropped against them. However, Ronnie was charged – in a vindictive attempt by law enforcement to stymie a civil suit against the City of Oceanside, on behalf of Club One – with over 60 felony counts ranging from money laundering to cultivation by the U.S. Attorney led by prosecutor Paul Starita.
Extreme pressure to plea was put on Ronnie using the fragile condition of his elderly mother, Carmen Chang whom he provided care for prior to his incarceration. Mrs. Chang has relied on the kindness of the medical cannabis community to help with groceries and other financial assistance via the Free Ronnie Chang campaign organized and managed by Heidi Whitman of San Diego Americans for Safe Access (SDASA).
Also helping Ronnie with moral support was San Diego Human Solution. Adela Falk, the Prison Outreach Coordinator for SDHS was responsible for mailing dozens of letters and cards from the community wishing Ronnie well and comforting him during his crisis.
The Chang case garnered national attention among progressives when former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner brought the topic of jury nullification – a practice of nullifying unjust laws by way of not guilty verdicts – to the forefront of Ronnie’s case. The former Mayor held a press conference after a gag order hearing which was filed by prosecutors against Ronnie’s attorney, and in response to this video by SDASA’s Eugene Davidovich. Video of Bob Filner’s press conference, filmed by Marcus Boyd, also of SDASA, can be viewed here.
Americans for Safe Access, the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research, recently had this to say about federal medical cannabis cases:
“The vast majority of federal medical marijuana cases are never tried. Because those indicted have no ability to use a medical necessity or state law defense in federal court, most defendants are forced to take plea bargains rather than face the consequences of an unfair trial. Numerous medical marijuana defendants over the past couple of years have received mandatory minimum sentences of 5-10 years in prison.”
Please plan to attend this important hearing before Judge Michael M. Anello. Ronnie will be released from custody with “time served” sometime following the hearing and will be free to recover from the trauma the U.S. Government has perpetrated upon him and his mother.
Many people and organizations came together in support because of the extreme hardship faced by mother and son. A special thanks to the Larsen-Robinsons, who visited, and those who donated money to Carmen Chang and all who wrote letters to Ronnie.
For more information, please contact San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator, Terrie Best at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ronnie Chang, a state legal medical marijuana patient and a directing member of Club One Collective/Extreme Holistic Care in San Marcos, will be sentenced on money laundering charges in San Diego’s Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse, Monday, March 17, 2014 at 9:00AM.
“This case has been plagued with vindictiveness from U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy’s office” said Marcus Boyd of San Diego Americans for Safe Access.
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Here is what Michael J McCabe had to say previous to the gag order which ordered us to remove this video from publishing. The government was concerned that if any potential jurors saw this video that they would not convict.
By Terrie Best – San Diego Americans for Safe Access Court Support Coordinator
San Diego, CA – Well-known medical cannabis defense attorney, Michael J. McCabe and his client Alexander Ayres were in the Vista courthouse in San Diego County today to accept a plea deal and bring an end to the months-long ordeal for Ayres, a legal medical cannabis patient.
Alex Ayres 24, suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, a condition he seeks cannabis treatment for in lieu of the addictive, side-effect laden pharmaceuticals he has tried in the past. His mother, Joyce, who has been by his side in court since his arrest, said Alex’s mental state is so improved by his cannabis use it was like a miracle for him. Joyce, a pretty and articulate woman in her 50s said she began advocating for Alex to use medical cannabis, when, in his late teen years, she discovered how beneficial it truly was for Alex. She says the stigma of cannabis is an issue but what really baffles her is why the District Attorney would drag her son through the courts when he is a legal patient.
San Diego District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis has exhibited a perplexing lack of compassion toward medical cannabis patients. Refusing to craft direction for her investigators and failing to honor patient status, Dumanis’ strategy has been to send all patients through the courts as drug offenders and let judge and jury decide their fates. The difficulty with that is it is very expensive, clogs the courts with victimless cases, is cruel to sick and injured patients and goes against California state laws: Proposition 215, SB 420 and the CA Attorney General Guidelines.
Alex, a resident of Santa Barbara, CA, held a medical cannabis recommendation which expressly allowed him to possess 11 pounds of cannabis at a given time but when Border Patrol officers stopped him at a boarder check point on his way home from San Diego they confiscated 174 vaporizer cartridges, a ¼ pound of wax concentrate and his electronics. The County Sheriff was called and Alex was taken to jail for nine days, had to pay bail to be released and was charged with transportation of a controlled substance.
Defense Attorney Michael McCabe said he was fully prepared to take Alex’s case to trial and had a very good defense for the transportation charge. Mr. McCabe, cited California’s AB 721, passed this year, which made a change to the California Penal Code to re-define “transportation” to mean “transportation for sale” in the law. In other words, the District Attorney’s Office would be required to prove Alex had intended to sell his medicine in order for him to be found guilt of transportation of a controlled substance.
The Deputy District Attorney in the case, Landy Spencer-Daly, apparently wasn’t so confident of a win in a jury trial and offered Alex a possession of marijuana misdemeanor charge with summary probation. Wanting the nightmare behind him and worrying about the possibility of other charges being levied, Alex signed the misdemeanor deal today in Department 5 of the Vista County Courthouse.
Alex and his attorney will be seeking a judge’s order to allow Alex to continue using his medical cannabis while serving his probation term – a strategy which has been successful, according to testimony from probation officials in other medical cannabis cases.