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Where There’s Smoke . . .
A medical-marijuana activist says he spent a night in jail for trying to educate sheriff’s deputies about legal pot at the OC Fair
Stan Pasqual had spent more than $200 to buy several tickets so he and his wife and a few of her friends could attend the July 11 Duran Duran show at the Orange County Fair. Just as the music began, shortly after 7 p.m., his wife lit up a cigarette, and an usher asked her to put it out. Then Pasqual noticed that the guy in front of him was smoking a bowl of marijuana. A moment later, he says, the usher accused him of smelling like weed. “I had a joint in my pocket, but I was saving it for later,” Pasqual says. “But I told her that I was allowed to smoke marijuana because I’m a patient and have a state-issued ID card that makes it legal.”
Pasqual would soon regret making that announcement; a few minutes later, a uniformed Orange County sheriff’s deputy demanded to see his identification—not the medical marijuana ID card, but his driver’s license. After Pasqual complied, the deputy leaned into him. “You smell like weed,” the deputy declared. “You know that’s illegal.”
Pasqual says he begged to differ. “I have my state ID card, and it’s legal,” he told the deputy, handing him the card in question. “He gave a hand signal and said something like ‘code blue,’ and the next thing I know, I’m being tackled from behind and have knees in my back and my neck, and I’m being handcuffed.”
Being knocked to the ground sent sharp currents of pain up and down Pasqual’s crooked spine. Six years ago, Pasqual suffered a back injury during a head-on car crash, and his spine has never straightened itself. He’s had weekly visits to a chiropractor ever since, and he says he smokes marijuana to relieve the constant pain. He’s also a volunteer for one of Orange County’s several dozen cannabis collectives, which have blossomed in the past year, ever since the county Board of Supervisors voted to encourage medical-marijuana smokers who have a doctor’s prescription to register with the county health department, thereby obtaining a state ID card allowing them to possess and smoke marijuana.
While being tackled and having his face pushed against the concrete, Pasqual continued to hold onto his ID card, which further angered the deputies, he says. “They kept yelling for me to stop resisting, but I went down like a sack of potatoes. I wasn’t resisting,” he says. “I just wouldn’t let go of my card.” Finally, a deputy asked him what the card was, and Pasqual explained that it allowed him to smoke pot and admitted that he had an unsmoked joint in his pocket.
After examining the card, one of the deputies scratched his head as if unsure what to do, according to Pasqual. “Then they told me they were kicking me out of the concert, and I had to leave the fair or else I was trespassing,” Pasqual says. “I told them I paid $200 to see this concert, and I haven’t done anything wrong.” Pasqual says he demanded an apology from the deputies who’d tackled him. “You guys are going to let me back in the concert and apologize,” he announced. “Let me go, and everything will be fine.” The deputies once again informed Pasqual that if he didn’t leave the fair, he’d be arrested, he says. “Fine,” he replied. “Take me to jail.”
But instead of taking Pasqual to jail, the deputies took him to a detention area at the fairgrounds, where a different group of deputies let him lie down in an air-conditioned van. One of the deputies working there asked him what happened, then told him he’d likely be released in a few minutes, he says.
Instead, Pasqual spent another hour or so at the detention center before being driven to the Orange County Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, where he was booked for obstructing a police officer. Pasqual spent the night being paraded from one jail cell to another in a processing area of the jail called the “loop.” He claims he saw deputies punching inmates who refused to heed their commands and watched seized-up heroin addicts twitching on the floor. Despite the searing pain in his back, he was refused any medical treatment before finally being released, according to a log of his arrest, at approximately 2:30 the following afternoon.
Pasqual faces an Aug. 8 hearing at the Harbor Justice Center for obstructing the deputy who arrested him. He plans to fight the charges, and he says that while he has no plans to sue the county, he still wants an apology and an explanation from the sheriff’s department. “I’d like a letter from the sheriff’s department saying that ‘if you have a state of California ID card, we will not detain you, take your marijuana, or beat the shit out of you.’ That’s all I want.”
John McDonald, a sheriff’s department spokesman, happily obliged Pasqual’s request for an explanation of the department’s policy, if not an apology. “If you have a valid card and are within the restrictions of the medical-marijuana law, as far as what it says about how much marijuana you can have, then our deputies are not to arrest you,” he says. “That’s pretty clear.”
McDonald pointed out that Pasqual wasn’t actually arrested for, nor has he been charged with, a marijuana-related offense. “He was charged with resisting arrest,” he says. McDonald provided the Weekly with a narrative of the incident from his agency’s perspective, which asserts that Pasqual was observed being “chased” by concert security and that he became belligerent after a deputy caught up with him. “The deputy escorted the subject up to the main walkway to advise him he was going to be ejected,” the narrative states. “The subject at this time tried to show the deputies his medical-marijuana card. . . . He refused to leave, and [when] the deputy tried to put a rear wrist lock on him, he resisted and was taken to the ground and handcuffed. He was transported by a patrol deputy and booked for resisting. The transporting deputy did find two marijuana cigarettes in his pocket during the booking search. The marijuana was taken and booked as evidence, but no additional charges were sought.”
Pasqual admits he did resist being arrested—verbally, at least. “Apparently, resisting arrest has a lot to do with your mouth,” he says. “If you don’t shut the fuck up when they want you to shut the fuck up, you’re resisting arrest.”
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