RPCV David Harde receives Prison Sentence for Medical Marijuana
With his white hair, neatly-trimmed moustache, and exemplary posture, Harde looked the part of a gentle, aging schoolteacher. But even with his shoulders straight, his words were those of a man who was spiritually downtrodden. Shortly before sentencing, Harde himself was permitted to address the court. With a shaking voice that stifled sobs, the defendant detailed his remorse for the consequences of his actions. "I am deeply sorry that I engaged in illegal activity," the defendant proclaimed, while simultaneously regretting the unnecessary expense of his prosecution. "The awareness of my folly and its consequences never leaves me -- it tortures me by day and haunts me by night." "I had a misconception about what I could do under the law. I was trying to help people and I was misguided in how I could help them. I was imprudent and unwise," Harde continued, before summing up his address with declarations of concession. "I realize the appropriateness of our federal drug laws. I have a deepened respect for the laws of our land. I have accepted responsibility by pleading guilty humbly."
In 2005, Harde was arrested by El Dorado County law enforcement for his role in a patient cooperative. After prosecuting Harde locally for several months, District Attorney Gary Lacy turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney's office and created a change of jurisdiction that eliminated the possibility of a successful medical defense in the case. Since federal courts do not recognize state medical marijuana laws, Harde was left with little recourse once he found himself facing charges from the U.S. government. He quickly changed his plea to guilty in order to accept a negotiated deal that reduced the charges against him to one felony count of cultivation.
An activist and dedicated community leader, Harde was particularly displeased by restrictions on his voting rights. From his solar-powered natural foods store to his pioneering of official organic farming guidelines to his appointment to the El Dorado County Fair Board, Harde has been nothing short of a role model for involved citizenry. And, to ask for leniency in his case, his citizen supporters not only packed the courtroom, but also packed the mailbox with character letters on Harde's behalf. "I received 110 character letters on behalf of the defendant. He comes in with a panoply of support, and that's wonderful. Most defendants in this court come in with just themselves and a public defender," Judge Damrell observed. "But is it fair for him to get less because of this? Just because he has support, should he be treated differently from other defendants?"
Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. was at once regretful and firm in his decision. "I gotta obey the law -- how do I get around that?" the judge asked defense counsel J. David Nick, citing the sentencing requirements for a Class A felony. "You're suggesting to this roomful of people that I have the power to grant probation, and I want to dispel that. I can't go willy-nilly and do what I want to do. I have no choice in the matter." And with these claims of powerlessness, Judge Damrell proceeded to sentence Harde to two and a half years in prison. Read more.
RPCV Sam Farr reintroduced Bill to Assure Fair Trials for Medical Marijuana Patients
In the wake of the June, 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing federal prosecutions of medical marijuana patients even in states where medical use of marijuana is permitted, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors have re-introduced legislation to guarantee such defendants a fair trial. The measure comes one week after the release of a new national Gallup poll in which 78% of respondents supported "making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe in order to reduce pain and suffering."
The Steve McWilliams Truth in Trials Act would allow individuals accused of violating federal marijuana laws to introduce evidence in federal court that they followed state law for the purpose of alleviating suffering. Defendants could be found not guilty if the jury finds that they followed state medical marijuana laws. At present, medical marijuana patients are barred from telling federal jurors that their use of marijuana was for medical purposes, even when state laws explicitly permit medical use.
The bill is named for San Diego medical marijuana patient and activist Steve McWilliams, who used marijuana to relieve the severe pain he suffered from a series of auto accidents. Facing federal prosecution for growing 25 marijuana plants in his yard, forbidden from mounting a medical-necessity defense, and unable to use the one medicine that eased his suffering for fear of being jailed, McWilliams committed suicide on July 12.
"By providing an affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, my legislation provides a reasonable way to accommodate contradictory federal and state laws on a very important medical matter," said Rep. Farr. "I am offering a compassionate, common sense solution and I hope my colleagues in Congress will put aside their preconceptions and give it fair consideration." Read more.