‘Money and marijuana’: Ex-restaurateur on trial for growing pot
Nevada County Deputy District Attorney James Phillips kept it short and sweet as the trial of Eric Engstrom got underway Tuesday afternoon.
“This case is about money and marijuana,” he told the jury panel of eight women and four men.
Engstrom, the former owner of the now-shuttered Dos Banditos restaurant in Nevada City, is facing charges of possessing marijuana for sale and unlawfully growing marijuana in his Cascade Shores home.
Engstrom’s attorney, Stephen Munkelt, told jurors that was “half the story.”
Munkelt argued there were two cases being presented in the courtroom. The first is “fairly straightforward, the direct evidence,” he said.
Members of the Nevada County narcotics task force did find a cultivation set-up with marijuana plants and 2 1/2 pounds of buds during a February 2009 search.
But Engstrom had been seeing a physician who provided medical marijuana recommendations between 1999 and 2007, Munkelt said. The physician’s recommendations authorized Engstrom to consume 6 1/2 pounds a year, he said – though he did not have a valid prescription for 2009.
Munkelt also argued that law enforcement officials were trying to cast suspicion on activities that had a legal explanation. The large amount of cash in Engstrom’s home was due to the fact that he was closing his restaurant down and had been advised to protect that income from tax liens, Munkelt said.
“You will hear from experts in the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes,” he said, telling the jurors that Engstrom’s cultivation was not set up to maximize yield, but instead was more of a “boutique” garden to improve quality.
Nevada City Police Det. Michael Scott Goin, a member of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force, testified he was called to search Engstrom’s home the morning of Feb. 20, 2009.
He described his experience in identifying marijuana, which Munkelt called into question.
Goin testified he found about 80 marijuana plants that were about 2 feet tall, plus packaged marijuana and a Tupperware-type container filled with “keef.”
Phillips asked to bring out the marijuana, which had been stored as evidence in a box and several large brown paper grocery bags.
Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger recessed for the day to allow the evidence to be entered into the court record. The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.
Contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 477-4229.
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