Jury finds pot seller not guilty | TheUnion.com

Jury finds pot seller not guilty

Photo for The Union by Liz Kellar

A jury has found a Grass Valley man not guilty on all counts in a Craigslist pot sale case.

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, claiming that Hansen stood to make about $180,000 from the illegal sale of marijuana.

But Hansen's attorney, Stephen Munkelt, argued Hansen was not guilty because his possession and cultivation of the medical marijuana was not unlawful, and he believed he was acting within the scope of the law when he arranged to sell some of his share of the pot he helped grow for a collective.

The jury obviously agreed, finding Hansen innocent of the charges, as well as a special firearm allegation.

Afterward, several jurors went out of their way to express their sympathy to the tearful defendant.

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"I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders," Hansen said. "Absolutely, in my heart, I felt that everything I had done was 100 percent legal."

Hansen had been detained by narcotics detectives after they met with him; it was not clear from the testimony, however, that the transaction was ever completed.

Deputies then obtained a search warrant for Hansen's Ridge Road property and seized 112 pounds of marijuana, most of which was drying on the stem, from the vacant house.

They also seized several firearms and more marijuana from a motorhome in which Hansen had been living.

Defense witnesses testified that Hansen belonged to a collective of nine medical marijuana patients who were growing at a Cedar Ridge property and that he had put approximately 400 hours of labor into the collective's garden.

The marijuana that was drying in the house, which Hansen was just beginning to renovate, belonged to the collective — and there was no evidence of intent to sell that marijuana, Munkelt argued.

Hansen was paid for his work for the collective with a portion of the marijuana, some of which he was entitled to exchange for cash, Munkelt said.

"We were very pleased with the verdict," Munkelt said Friday afternoon. "It reaffirms the scope of protection that medical marijuana law provides from criminal prosecution.

"People who have a medical recommendation for marijuana should very carefully try to follow the protections that the law provides — they can have a level of confidence that if they are accused of a crime, their defense does have the power to protect them from a conviction."

Phillips, however, expressed his disappointment.

"Despite the confusing nature of the law, we felt the jury had sufficient evidence to convict," he said.

Munkelt said Friday that he plans to file a motion to have the seized marijuana returned to his client. Hansen already has bought back his motorhome, which had been seized by the DEA.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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