Medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) on Nov. 22 appealed the September 2010 conviction of San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson in a case that has become a symbol of the effort by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to criminalize storefront dispensaries. California Attorney General Kamala Harris—who served as San Francisco DA when that city established the state's first dispensaries—will now defend Jackson's appeal rather than Dumanis, who originally tried him. The ASA appeal contests Jackson's denial of a medical defense, and challenges the prosecution's assertion that "sales" of medical marijuana are illegal under state law.
"Jackson and other medical marijuana providers deserve a defense under the state's medical marijuana laws and these are issues for a jury to decide," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford. "The denial of Jackson's defense was unfairly used to convict a medical marijuana provider who was in full compliance with state law." At Jackson's trial, San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore referred to medical marijuana as "dope," and called California's medical marijuana laws "a scam."
The Jackson case represents one of the first medical marijuana-related criminal appeals for Harris, who was elected one year ago after a hard-fought campaign against Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Navy veteran Jackson operated his storefront collective for years without incident until he was raided in 2008. Jackson was tried for cannabis possession and sales in 2009, but was acquitted by a jury. Dissatisfied with that result, DA Dumanis tried Jackson again on the same charges stemming from a September 2009 raid by a multi-agency task force of local and federal enforcement. It was at his second trial that Jackson was denied a medical defense and convicted. Judge Shore gave Jackson 180 days in jail before his conviction was appealed.
Several district attorneys have asserted that medical cannabis "sales" are illegal under state law, despite guidelines issued in 2008 by the California Attorney General and legal case law to the contrary. This contention—that patients must take part in collective cultivation and "till the soil"—was used to deny Jackson a defense, even though other courts, including those in Los Angeles and Butte Counties, take a differing view.
For example, in Williams v. Butte County, the Superior Court held that, "the legislature intended collective cultivation of medical marijuana would not require physical participation in the gardening process by all members of the collective, but rather would permit that some patients would be able to contribute financially, while others performed the labor and contributed the skills and 'know-how.'"