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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charging Marijuana Growers With Child Abuse

     Although voters in California have legalized medical marijuana, police and prosecutors in the state continue to raid growers who they believe are illegally cultivating the cannabis for resale. (Cops also get a kick out of the raids themselves. If there was no drug war, SWAT teams would have to be disbanded, or called out in shoplifting cases.) To further criminalize pot growing, cannabis cultivators with children are being charged with child endangerment, and in some cases, abuse. In the medical marijuana community, these raids and arrests, and charges of child abuse, are considered harassment tactics by the cops and prosecutors who are against the legalization of medical marijuana. They argue that living in a house with marijuana plants is not equivalent to growing up in a crack house.

     Generally, people who support marijuana decriminalization include libertarians, liberals, potheads, and the relatively small number of sick people cannabis actually helps. Opponents include social conservatives, religious groups, and the law enforcement community. Judges, caught in the middle of this social and legal debate, will have to sort it out case by case.

     Daisy Bram and Jayme Walsh grow medical marijuana in their garage and on their property in Concow, California, an unincorporated community in Butte County. This remote, mountainous area in the north central part of the state is named after the Indian tribe indigenous to the region. Bram and Walsh have two children, 15-month-old Thor, and 3-week-old Zeus. (I'm going to take a wild guess and speculate that Daisy and Jayme play the guitar, and sing folk songs.)

     At eight in the morning of September 29, 2011, members of the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force, accompanied by child protection service agents, raided the Bram-Walsh house on Yellow Wood Road. They seized 96 marijuana plants, a plastic bag containing syringes and spoons, and both of the children.

     Assistant District Attorney Jeff Greeson charged Daisy Bram and Jayme Walsh with a total of 8 class A felonies that included cultivating and possessing cannabis for sale, and two counts of child abuse.

     On November 30, 2011, Judge Steven Howell dismissed the child abuse charges for lack of evidence. Six weeks later, the defendants got their children back. Prosecutor Greeson, on March 8, re-filed the child abuse charges against Daisy Bram. The re-instatment of these charges upset local medical marijuana supporters who called for a grand jury investigation of the drug task force, and the child protection agency.

     At the preliminary hearing on June 11, 2012 held in Oroville before Butte County Superior Court Judge Steven Howell to determine if the state had sufficient probable cause to hold Daisy Bram over for trial on the child abuse charges, prosecutor Greeson presented an expert witness.

     Dr. Angela Rosas with the Sutter Medical Group, testified that the psychoactive chemical in cannabis--THC--is hazardous to children. If a child eats raw marijuana plant leaves, the effect could be toxic, she said. Defense attorney Michael Levinsohn put on his own medical expert, Dr. William Courtney. Dr. Courtney, who studies the effects of marijuana on users, testified that THC isn't activated unless it's heated. He said a child would have to eat a pile of raw leaves to get sick. And not only that, the leaves have a bad taste.

     Judge Howell has not made his ruling on the child abuse issue. I think he will dismiss the charges and allow Bram and Walsh to keep Zeus and Thor. (If there's child abuse in this case, it's giving your kids dogs' names.)     

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