Paralyzed Man Faces Pot Charges

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by RMJL, Oct 1, 2003.

    Record by Kate Fowlie,

    The San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office has filed charges against a Stockton-area quadriplegic who says he grows and uses marijuana for medicinal purposes.

    Nearly a month after sheriff's deputies seized 52 marijuana plants from 25-year-old Aaron Paradiso's rural home, Deputy District Attorney Phil Urie last week filed charges of marijuana cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale against Paradiso, his mother, Debra Paradiso, and his friend and sometime caregiver, Robert Turano. The trio are scheduled to appear Oct. 15 in the San Joaquin County Courthouse.

    Aaron Paradiso, who was paralyzed from the shoulders down in a 1998 traffic accident, says marijuana helps him manage pain and eases muscle spasms. He has been growing his own marijuana for three years and says he has a medical permit to grow it under Proposition 215.

    However, authorities say Paradiso was growing much more than he needed and is using the law as a cover for a commercial operation. San Joaquin County does not have set limits on how many plants a person with a permit can grow, so cases are handled individually, Urie said.

    This could change if Gov. Gray Davis approves proposed legislation that would set a statewide limit on the number of marijuana plants an approved medical-marijuana user can have.

    But for now, "the basic guideline is, don't have more than you need. We are trying to prevent people from being sources of street-level marijuana," Urie said, adding that most people he has encountered in San Joaquin County who claim to have permission under Proposition 215 are abusing the law.

    Paradiso said he didn't know he was exceeding any limit or that he was breaking any laws. In fact, he said he has called the district attorney's office in the past to ask what the limit is, only to be told there wasn't one.

    Urie said there is evidence that Paradiso has been selling small amounts to other people and gave or sold his surplus crops back to cannabis clubs.

    Paradiso admitted he gave some extra marijuana to the clubs but did not remember how much and did not view it as a crime. But Urie said giving pot away is the same as selling it under the law. ::: Advertisement :::

    "Proposition 215 allows a person to possess or cultivate. It does not allow a person to possess it for the purpose of giving it or selling it to other people -- even if those people are themselves qualified patients," Urie said.

    Urie said deputies also recently seized 15 more marijuana plants from a second house that Paradiso owns in the area. Paradiso said he received a large settlement after his accident, used the money to buy property and doesn't need to sell drugs to make a living.

    When deputies raided his home Aug. 26, they also took 2 pounds of processed marijuana that Paradiso said he used as medication. He is now forced to drive to a cannabis club in Hayward every two weeks to buy marijuana, at a cost Paradiso put at $250 a trip.

    Urie said he filed two additional charges against Paradiso, including being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. The deputy district attorney said Paradiso was convicted of a felony as a juvenile but wouldn't specify the crime because he was a minor at the time.

    Paradiso wouldn't elaborate, either, but said he finds the additional charges ironic because he can't move from his shoulders down. Besides, he said, the weapons are registered to his mother, who lives with him, and are kept in a safe. His mother declined to comment based on the advice of her son's attorney.

    Paradiso maintains that he should be protected from prosecution by Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana use for people suffering from AIDS, cancer and other serious diseases if they have a doctor's recommendation or approval. California voters approved the initiative in 1996.

    "We voted for a law. It became law that that stuff is our medicine. They are supposed to uphold the law," he said.

    Paradiso said he has been open with law enforcement about the fact that he grows the plants on his land and bakes with the marijuana leaves with the help of family members. Two years ago, deputies took a look at his plants and left him alone. But an increased number of marijuana plants apparently caught their attention this year.

    Paradiso received a medical-use identification card from the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, which issues permits to grow and use marijuana for people who have a doctor's prescription. Jeff Jones, the cooperative's executive director, said it was a shame the Sheriff's Office took marijuana that Paradiso uses for medication.

    "That is very disappointing," Jones said.

    Jones said he knows some people abuse the law but that most truly rely on medical marijuana to make life more bearable. More guidelines are needed to protect medical-marijuana users and to guide law enforcement, he said.

    Legislation to do that is sitting on Davis' desk. If Davis approves Senate Bill 420, which was recently passed by the Senate and Assembly, the new law would set plant limits for approved marijuana users statewide if they agree to register as a user with the state.

    Participants could have up to 12 immature plants or six mature plants and 8 ounces of processed marijuana at a time, Urie said.

    Individual counties could set higher limits. Oakland already has a 72-plant limit for indoor gardens and a 20-plant limit on outdoor cultivation. Sonoma County allows 99 plants outdoors and San Francisco allows as much as a doctor approves.

    Urie opposes specifying how many plants a person can have and said eight mature plants is too much for one person. One plant typically produces about 1 pound of marijuana. A person usually can use up to 2 pounds a year, he said.

    "( SB420 limits ) could be a whole lot more than a person needs, but I think it is something we can live with," Urie said. "We are still trying to figure out what is going on -- ( Proposition ) 215 created a whole mess."

    MAP posted-by: Beth

    Pubdate: Sun, 28 Sep 2003
    Source: Record, The (CA)
    Copyright: 2003 The Record
    Author: Kate Fowlie

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