Personal Grow Op Shocks With Size
from the San Francisco Chronicle
"It seemed like a pretty good haul for police: About 70 marijuana plants in various stages of development inside a 32nd Avenue home in the Sunset, two guns, scales, baggies and an illegal power-sapping hookup... Yet the pair were acquitted by a jury last week... The father, a retired security guard, truck driver, patrol special police officer and teacher -- and a veteran -- said he and his son both needed at least four cigar-sized joints a day
to make it through."
San Francisco's effort to snuff out the budding indoor pot-growing trade took a bit of a hit, shall we say, when a father-and-son team of marijuana growers beat the rap.
It seemed like a pretty good haul for police and a good case for prosecutors: About 70 marijuana plants in various stages of development inside a 32nd Avenue home near Pacheco Street in the Sunset, two guns, scales, baggies and an illegal power-sapping hookup -- all the characteristics of the pot farms sprouting up in the avenues.
The three-room pot farm's father-and-son proprietors were charged with marijuana cultivation for sale. They could have been sentenced to as much as three years in state prison apiece if convicted.
But last week, the case went south and the two men, Thomas Chang, 62, and his son, Errol Chang, 30, were acquitted by a San Francisco jury.
Their defense? They needed the marijuana for a variety of maladies, from nightmares to neck pain to schizophrenia. Both had a cash-only doctor's recommendation to use the drug.
The father, a retired security guard, truck driver, patrol special police officer and teacher, said he and his son both needed at least four cigar-sized joints a day to make it through.
Prosecutors ran straight into a new wrinkle in medical marijuana cases. No longer is there a set standard for what can clearly be seen as cultivation, as opposed to personal use. Instead, a jury is charged with determining what is considered reasonable for a person's medical needs.
In the Changs' case, both men's attorneys said their clients needed the plants to meet their daily needs. Was it excessive to be growing 70 plants? The Changs had an expert who said the men simply were not making the most of what they had, so the fact that they had so many plants should not be counted against them.
Kenneth Quigley, the attorney for the father, said this was no pot farm. "They were doing the minimum required to grow pot -- you have to use three separate rooms," he said. "The law says ... you can possess whatever you reasonably need, considering your current medical problems."
The defense attorney added that the Changs "had grow permits -- they had five of them posted on the walls throughout the house." The grow permits are issued by an Oakland organization that confirms that the grower has a doctor's recommendation.
Police officers' testimony that they hadn't seen any posted permit in the house "was a stupid and unnecessary lie that caused the jurors to disbelieve the rest of their story," Quigley said.
Richard Hechler, the prosecutor, said jurors with whom he had spoken said there wasn't enough evidence that the Changs were cultivating the marijuana for sale.
"They wanted videotapes, they wanted better photographs, they wanted measurements," Hechler said.
He added, "They felt bad for the dad -- he testified that he won two Bronze Stars in Vietnam and he suffers insomnia from the terrible experiences he had 40 years ago."
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