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So far, however, only six collectives have joined GOCCA. To Smith, that simply proves his thesis that many collectives are actually just "front groups" for drug dealers. "Six collectives is about 10 percent of the total number of collectives in the county," he estimates. "Those 10 percent really represent the cream of the crop. The other 90 percent want to remain in the shadows, doing the gray things that they do just to make some money. They don't want to be in the spotlight of the city or the police, so they operate off the board."
Meanwhile, after numerous delays, Steele and Theresa Smith face a June trial date in their federal marijuana-cultivation case. If it goes to trial, it will become the first federal case in the nation in which a defendant will be able to mention the words "medical marijuana." Previously, juries in such cases had no way of knowing if the defendant was a sick patient growing medicine for his or her collective or a garden-variety weed farmer. But as Smith's own defense attorney, Eric Shevin, points out, there is still no "medical marijuana" defense to marijuana cultivation in federal law.
In other words, Smith's only hope at a not-guilty verdict is a sympathetic jury deliberately ignoring this fact, despite the judge's inevitable instructions to the contrary. Besides, Shevin adds, prosecutors have repeatedly offered Smith a settlement the attorney described as "too good to refuse." So far, however, his client has refused to cop a plea. "To hope a jury acquits you just because they hear the words 'medical marijuana' is super-risky," Shevin says. "To fight this case and be a martyr just to be heard? The stakes are just incredibly high."
For his part, Smith seems incredibly unworried about his legal prospects. He points out that Shevin has filed motions in his case arguing the federal government has no right to penalize conduct that has been legalized under state laws. "The government doesn't want to answer those motions," Smith says. "I will probably get a favorable judgment. There are 15 other states watching this, and if I win, there will be a new law that all those states can use."
If Smith wins in federal court, he'll also regain his legal standing to sue the city of Placentia, which he believes is responsible for setting in motion the ordeal of the past several years of his life. Thanks to the 10 months of incarceration he suffered after he filed the original lawsuit, he says with almost giddy excitement, the amount of damages he can claim has risen exponentially.
"The attorneys I'm talking to say the sky's the limit," Smith enthuses. "They say I can rename the city of Placentia if I win. The city's lawyers know that I'm too clean. They know I'm not going to look bad in front of a jury. They can't say, 'We found meth on this guy; he had a gun; he's an alcoholic.' I went to USC. I went to law school. I'm a seventh-generation Californian. I'm a patient. I've got a rare disease. Fuck—I'm the perfect storm!"
This article appeared in print as "Prophet of Pot? Steele Smith fancies himself a truth-teller in OC's medicinal-marijuana communtiy—and because of that, he just might be its most hated member."