Jury deliberating on Craigslist pot buy case
February 26, 2013
A case that revolves around whether or not it was lawful for a medical marijuana patient to sell part of the pot he cultivated is in the jury's hands after two days of testimony.
Ronald Hansen, 54, was arrested in November 2011 after a Nevada County Sheriff's narcotics task force member responded to his Craigslist.org advertisement, arranged to buy 1-1/2 ounces for $300 and set up a meeting with him in the parking lot of a Grass Valley restaurant.
At the beginning of Hansen's trial in Nevada County Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips said the case was about profit and ran some numbers by the jury.
He told the jurors that members of the Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force seized 112 pounds of marijuana, most of which was drying on the stem, from Hansen's house on Ridge Road. And he estimated the street value of the marijuana at $180,000 if it were sold at $200 an ounce, as listed in Hansen's ad.
“(Ronald Hansen) was trying to do what’s lawful because that’s the kind of person he is.”
— Defense Attorney Stephen Munkelt
At the end of the trial, Phillips hammered those numbers once again — and added two new numbers: six, the number of times Hansen said he ran a Craigslist ad, and 12, the number of times he said he sold marijuana through those ads.
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The proof that Hansen intended to sell his marijuana for profit lies in those numbers, he argued.
But Hansen's attorney, Stephen Munkelt, told the jury Phillips' numbers were imaginary.
"The big number was $180,000," Munkelt said. "Where did he come up with that number?"
Munkelt pointed out that Deputy Jeff Martin, who had set up the buy, testified that marijuana was selling at that time for about $1,000 a pound. Phillips had extrapolated the $180,000 number by taking the price for one ounce and assuming that Hansen would be able to sell 60 pounds of trimmed marijuana by the ounce, Munkelt said.
"There's absolutely no evidence that anyone could have sold that many ounces at that price," he said.
"The biggest number you can actually come up with from the evidence is a few hundred dollars."
In any case, Munkelt said, the marijuana seized at Hansen's house belonged to a collective of nine patients, not solely to him.
"There was no evidence of intent to sell" the marijuana that was drying at the house, he said.
According to Munkelt, Hansen put approximately 400 hours of labor into the collective garden.
Hansen was paid for his work cultivating for the collective with a portion of the marijuana, some of which he was entitled to exchange for cash, Munkelt said. Therefore, Hansen did not profit from the sale of some of his share, he said.
Munkelt suggested it was the Sheriff's Office that stood to profit — since it will recover approximately $14,000 from the federal forfeiture of a motor home in the wake of Hansen's arrest.
That money was "chump change" for the defendant, Phillips retorted.
But the main point that Munkelt sought to make was that Hansen was not guilty because his possession and cultivation of the marijuana was not unlawful, and he believed he was acting within the scope of the law when he arranged to sell some of his medical marijuana.
And Munkelt argued there was no actual sale because Hansen did not complete the transaction with the undercover deputy and would not have sold pot to him without a valid recommendation.
"He was trying to do what's lawful because that's the kind of person he is," Munkelt said, referring to Hansen as "just a good-hearted retired guy" who got dragged into court because he tried to get $300 back for his many hours of work.
But intent to sell any marijuana for profit is unlawful, Phillips said, adding that he does not believe that converting marijuana given as compensation to cash is permitted under the law.
While Munkelt critiqued Phillips for not defining profit, Phillips told the jury it was supposed to use the everyday, ordinary meaning of the term.
"Trust your own judgment on that," he said.
The jury is set to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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