Stooping to a new low, local law enforcement in California has resorted to identity theft in order to entrap, arrest and prosecute law-abiding medical marijuana providers. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department has admitted to using the physician’s recommendation and identity of legal medical marijuana patient Robert Shaffer in order to entrap and arrest Jay Smith, operator of the local “K Care Alternative Collective” dispensary. The Sheriff’s Department was in possession of Shaffer’s documentation as a result of an unrelated arrest.
Despite complying with state law by refusing to sell Deputy Sheriff Steve Avila any medical marijuana before verifying the recommendation that he fraudulently used, Smith is still being prosecuted for felony marijuana sales and transportation. Surprisingly, at a recent hearing, Calaveras County Superior Court Judge Douglas Mewhinney overlooked Smith’s compliance with the law and said there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Shaffer’s physician, Dr. Philip A. Denney of Carmichael, verified that Shaffer was indeed a patient when K Care contacted Dr. Denney’s office after Deputy Avila deceptively used Shaffer’s valid medical marijuana recommendation. Dr. Denney, upset that his patient, Robert Shaffer, did not authorize such use of his medical records, told The Record that the investigation against Smith “smacks of entrapment and sleaziness.”
Dr. Philip Denney: The prosecution of Smith “smacks of entrapment and sleaziness.”
Calaveras Sheriff Dennis Downum defended the actions of Deputy Avila, but seemed confused about the letter of the law. In an appearance before the Calaveras Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Downum claimed erroneously that, “to provide medical marijuana to someone, there has to be a caregiver relationship.” In fact, if Sheriff Downum had brushed up on the law, he would have realized that for Smith to be in compliance with state law, he must operate as a collective or cooperative, not as a “caregiver.”
While Sheriff Downum has no excuse to be ignorant of the law he’s upheld to enforce, Calaveras District Attorney Jeff Tuttle has no excuse to falsely prosecute Smith based on the same flawed interpretation of state law. In an interview with the Calaveras Enterprise, Tuttle echoed Sheriff Downum and said that his “understanding of the law is that…you have to be a primary caregiver to provide [patients] with marijuana.”
In response to accusations of impropriety, District Attorney Tuttle said:
Law enforcement officers and investigations are allowed to do many things that as citizens we would be penalized criminally for, but the reason they are is that they are doing it as part of an investigation. They can mislead people, they can lie they can try to trick people.
Smith’s attorney, Ean Vizzi, called Tuttle’s assertions “absolutely incorrect,” not knowing whether Tuttle was just “mistaken or [if] he’s purposefully ignoring the law.”
Sheriff Downum and Distriact Attorney Tuttle should not be let off the hook so easily. At best, they have seriously misinterpreted California’s medical marijuana law, and at worst the Sheriff could be responsible for “investigatorial misconduct” against Smith and Shaffer. If it’s determined that the Sheriff’s Department has violated any ethical or legal standards by assuming Shaffer’s identity to entrap Smith, the case against Smith should be promptly dismissed and Sheriff Downum should have to face the legal consequences.