Dude, Where's My Pot?

Ten years after California legalized medical marijuana, OCs war on cannabis continues

David Lucas, who says he smokes cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder but refused to elaborate, has twice lost his pot after being pulled over. A few years ago, Newport Beach police confiscated his marijuana after citing him for failing to make a complete stop on a street on Balboa Island. He showed up in court to contest the ticket, and the prosecutors dropped the case. He says the same thing happened on Oct. 25, 2006, when Huntington Beach police pulled him over and confiscated a bag of marijuana and his pipe. Lucas claims police falsely alleged the pot weighed more than an ounce.

"I gave them my medical slip," Lucas says. "And they said it's not worth the paper it's written on—there's no such thing as medical marijuana." After several court hearings, prosecutors dropped the charges. Superior Court records show the case was closed without any charges filed, but Lucas says he never got his marijuana back. "It's like we live in Russia," he says. "It's almost communism. We have laws, but they don't follow them or respect them."

Former forklift operator Brian Castillo Garces probably wishes all he had to worry about was getting his pot back. He says he smokes cannabis to treat injuries—a broken left foot and fractured right hand—he suffered during a workplace accident in August 2006. On Oct. 18, police showed up at the Mission Viejo condominium he shared with five other people. "The search warrant was for cocaine and for someone who didn't live there," Garces says. "I had seven plants growing in the house and a half-ounce in my safe, and they made me open that and confiscated everything."

Richard Quell. Photo by John Gilhooley
Richard Quell. Photo by John Gilhooley

Police also took Garces' doctor's note, but when they tried to confirm it, the doctor's office said he wasn't a patient, Garces says. Apparently, police erroneously told the doctor his last name was Castillo, not Garces. When Garces showed up in court, deputies arrested him for cultivation and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. He's currently awaiting trial. "They're pretty serious charges," he says. "It's all a big-ass misunderstanding."

Sue Clemmons is now a convicted felon thanks to her misunderstanding of Prop. 215 and SB420. Both Clemmons and her husband are ex-postal workers. She says she smokes marijuana to treat arthritis, a condition she developed after sorting mail for 33 years. On Sept. 6, 2006, she, her husband and 20-year-old son, were all arrested by Santa Ana cops for growing marijuana in their back yard. Apparently, a next-door neighbor, who happened to be a parole officer, saw the plants, which numbered 17. That would have been legal under SB420, which allows each patient with a doctor's note to grow up to six flowering plants, but only Clemmons—and not her husband or son—had a doctor's note.

After all three Clemmonses were hauled off to jail, strip-searched and placed in holding cells for several hours, they were released on bail because none of them had any prior arrests. Clemmons says she witnessed a female deputy yank an inmate by her hair and lead her out of the holding cell for laughing out loud. Each pled guilty to cultivating marijuana to avoid a jury trial and the possibility of spending three years in prison.

"I never thought I'd be retired and turned into a senior delinquent," Clemmons says. "If people knew how they treated people in the OC Jail, they wouldn't believe it. That's why I took a deal. I didn't want to go back."

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Sheriff's officials failed to respond to an interview request by presstime. DA spokeswoman Susan Schroeder acknowledged that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to medical marijuana. She refused to comment on specific cases, but said her office follows the law as set by Prop. 215. "We take each case on an individual basis and try to determine if there's a valid legal defense," she said. "We're not taking sides. We're just following the law."

Nobody personifies the confusion over medical marijuana in Orange County more than Benny Toves "Rasta Ben" Guerrero, a Native American whose Guamanian ancestors called themselves the Taotao Tano, or People of the Land. Guerrero, who lives in Buena Park, is also a Rastafarian with dreadlocks that hang a few inches from the ground. Like all disciples of Jah, he views cannabis as a sacrament. He says he has the biblical quotations to prove it.

"Marijuana is the herb-bearing seed for which it shall be your meat or food in Genesis Chapter 1, verses 11 and 29," Guerrero says. "And in Exodus 23 and 30, it gives the recipe for the holy anointing oil, mistranslated from Hebrew to Greek as 'sweet cane.' Cannabis indica is sweet cane in the sense that its stems are hollow and it is definitely fragrant. It's also in Revelations Chapter 22, verse 2: It is the tree of life of which the leaves shall be the healing of all nations."

On New Year's Day 1991, Guerrero, who had just flown from Los Angeles to Guam to visit family members, walked off an airplane at A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport. U.S. Customs officials searched his luggage and discovered a bag of cannabis. They arrested him for importing marijuana, and Guerrero spent the next 15 days in jail. After being convicted of the charges, he spent the following five years under house arrest in Guam. Guerrero challenged his conviction, saying that as a Rastafarian of Guamanian descent, his arrest violated the U.S. Constitution's protection of Native American religious freedom, as well as an 1898 treaty in which the Spanish Empire ceded Guam to the United States.

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