Marijuana cases face new challenges

The fizzling of two recent and unrelated drug-dealing trials in San Mateo County illustrates the legal landscape since the prominence of medical marijuana identification, where the accused have government-issued cannabis cards and juries are less likely to convict, prosecutors say.

“There’s been a dramatic change in this area of prosecution,” San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. “These cards are easy to obtain and every single one of the dealers is getting one.”

At the same time, people’s attitudes toward marijuana have softened, making it tougher to win a conviction than in cases involving harder drugs, he said.

“In days gone by, these cases were provable simply by the amount of marijuana. Now, juries seem to be demanding more,” Wagstaffe said. “Explanations that wouldn’t have been accepted five years ago now seem to find a willing ear.”

Thursday, a mistrial was declared when jurors deadlocked on felony drug-dealing and gun charges facing 41-year-old East Palo Alto resident Terrance Bush. He was convicted only of one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest. Bush, who has two prior felony drug convictions, was arrested after a June 15 traffic stop in Menlo Park. Police said he took off running, tossing a gun as he fled and leaving $7,900 in cash in his car. When officers caught up to him, they allegedly found several baggies of pot in his possession.

During the trial, Bush’s attorney claimed the marijuana was for Bush’s personal use. Bush’s medical marijuana card backed up the claim.

The mistrial came one day after a 22-year-old Redwood City man avoided felony charges in a similar case. San Carlos police arrested Marc Remington MacDonald in a stakeout at a Wendy’s parking lot in July 2006. A search of the car turned up 1.2 ounces of marijuana, a scale and $150 near the center console. In the back seat, police found another $4,000 in cash, prosecutors said.

During the trial, MacDonald’s attorney pointed to his client’s medical marijuana card, claiming the drug was only for personal use. The cash was to be used for apartment hunting, he said.

The jury deadlocked on felony possession for sale charges and acquitted MacDonald of felony transportation of marijuana. They found him guilty of a misdemeanor charge of transportation.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Feasel, who tried the case, said MacDonald twisted a law intended to protect the sick.

“Mr. MacDonald was not suffering from cancer or AIDS or any of those diseases I believe this law made meant to help,” Feasel said.

tbarak@examiner.com  

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