Pot advocates decry man's conviction

Medical marijuana supporters are threatening lawsuits and rallying around a Medford man they say was wrongfully convicted of felony charges related to a September arrest.

Joshua Brewer, 22, was found guilty June 2 of a single count each of manufacturing and possessing a substantial amount of marijuana after a two-day jury trail in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Local members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) protested Brewer's sentencing hearing Tuesday morning. The group is seeking donations to appeal Brewer's conviction and is threatening a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Medford, its Police Department and individual officers.

Brewer and two other medical marijuana cardholders were growing cannabis at their Spring Street residence in Medford when Brewer was arrested Sept. 27 for having more "usable" marijuana than his medical card allowed, said his former public defender Michael Bertholf.

A press release from NORML said Medford police were either unaware of laws regarding medical marijuana, deliberately ignoring the law or blatantly violating it.

"Or none of the above," said Medford Police Deputy Chief Tim George, who attended the sentencing hearing, which was postponed to allow a new defense attorney to better familiarize himself with the case.

George said his officers were well aware of the law and followed policy. Medford police arrest at least one medical marijuana cardholder per week, George said.

"Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug and there is plenty of abuse," George said. "The state presented their case and (Brewer) was convicted. People have a right to appeal their case, or accuse us of civil violations. That's not going to change the way we do business."

The three Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders at the Spring Street residence were legally entitled to collectively possess up to 4.5 pounds of usable marijuana. Medford police seized 5.28 pounds in the raid, Bertholf said.

In the trial, Bertholf asked Judge Ray White to dismiss all charges against Brewer. The plants seized had been harvested just days before the raid, he said, and about half of the material was not usable marijuana.

"The state tested one exhibit that had some 40 grams of usable marijuana, part of it included unidentified plant material and also a bag of moldy material that was unidentifiable," Bertholf said. "I felt that due to the inaccuracy of the weight, our motion should have been granted."

White dismissed weapons and endangering charges against Brewer. But the judge ruled the possession and manufacturing charges would stand, allowing jurors to determine how much of the marijuana was usable.

The jury found Brewer guilty of the two felony drug charges on June 2 after two hours of deliberation. Bertholf said he expected Brewer would receive probation, but noted his client could receive up to 10 years and fines of $250,000 for each guilty verdict.

On Tuesday Brewer appeared before White for his sentencing hearing accompanied by Portland attorney Leland Berger. Berger, who assisted in drafting the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, represents medical marijuana patients and their caregivers statewide. Berger said he was hired Monday to replace Bertholf and represent Brewer.

"I was hired to represent Mr. Brewer, but not by NORML," Berger said, declining to say who hired him.

Berger said medical marijuana patients and providers are being caught in the gray areas of the current OMMP laws. Those laws were amended in 2005 and increased the amount of marijuana that could be possessed in exchange for limiting options for defense in these types of cases.

Berger said there is often confusion over how much of the cannabis seized is actually "usable."

"This is an ongoing issue," Berger said. "Patients and providers are trying to comply. But they are being arrested and prosecuted."

At Tuesday's sentencing hearing, White granted Berger's request for postponement to allow the lawyer to familiarize himself with the case. Brewer's next hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on June 29.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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