The fire in David Silvaggio’s home 15 months ago turned out to be the least of his problems.
While the blaze on Oct. 5, 2012, was contained to a single room in the one-story home on Mesquite Avenue near Rancho Drive, that room was where he grew his marijuana.
The 50-year-old was soon facing two felony charges, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and possession of a controlled substance after Las Vegas firefighters called police.
As Silvaggio’s case meandered through the courts, he lost his massage therapist license, he had to move after the fire, and one of his medical conditions, psoriatic-arthritis, flared.
He was offered plea deals that would reduce the charges. He refused and demanded a trial.
He won’t get one.
Defense lawyer Julie Raye said Clark County prosecutors are expected to drop the charges against Silvaggio at a hearing today before District Judge Jessie Walsh.
Silvaggio, who also successfully battled cancer twice and has thrombosis in his legs, steadfastly protested the charges. He had a valid medical marijuana card and a signed note from a physician, he said.
“I have every right to produce marijuana in my home. There was nothing in my home that was illegal,” he said. He added that his wife wouldn’t allow him to have anything illegal in the house.
However, investigators said he had too much weed in his home for personal use and believed he was selling marijuana, according to court documents. Police filed an arrest warrant.
The grow operation consisted of 12 marijuana plants, paraphernalia associated with a marijuana-grow operation, including high-intensity bulbs, light reflectors, electrical ballasts, wool grow bags, vortex fans, grow pots, chemical nutrients and a portable air conditioning unit, which started the fire, police said.
Silvaggio never denied he was growing and storing marijuana. He said he was following state law and had a medical marijuana card not set to expire until Oct. 14, 2012, when the fire occurred.
Two years ago, Nevada law allowed medical marijuana cardholders to possess, deliver or produce minute amounts of marijuana for pain relief. The law allowed someone registered to possess 1 ounce and grow three mature plants and four immature plants at one time, meaning a person could arguably only hold one dose at a time.
However, the law did not allow any way for a patient to buy marijuana.
The Legislature sought to correct the problem last year by regulating the distribution of medical marijuana to patients. A new law allows up to 40 marijuana dispensaries in Clark County, negating the need for patients to grow their own.
The state Health Division was supposed to start accepting applications for dispensaries by April 1, but officials recently said the program likely won’t be ready until the summer.
But that did Silvaggio no good two years ago.
He said he turned to marijuana for pain relief after two failed shoulder surgeries that left him addicted to prescription pain killers, such as Lortab.
Prescription pain killers left him goofy and angry, he said. “Either I have the marijuana for my medicine or I have to take pain pills and I’m not taking pain pills,” Silvaggio said.
He received a physician’s approval allowing him to hold 20 mature plants, no more than 49 plants total and up to 20 ounces of usable pot, court documents show.
Silvaggio said he would use the marijuana in different ways. He’d smoke some of it or create oils and creams to rub on his psoriasis. He learned how to grow and cultivate marijuana through YouTube.com, an online site dedicated to videos.
After the fire, Silvaggio said he wasn’t arrested right away. But in March when he was taken into custody, he cursed at an officer, who pushed him into a police cruiser, knocking out a bridge in his teeth, Silvaggio said. He spent eight days in jail, before bailing out. With the loss of his massage therapist license due to his pending case, Silvaggio said he hasn’t had the money to fix his teeth.
Silvaggio said authorities told him he didn’t deserve to have a medical marijuana card and then accused him of selling $20 baggies of marijuana on the Strip, which he denied. Court records do not show Silvaggio faced any other drug-related charges.
Prosecutors did not return a call requesting comment on the case.
Silvaggio said he was offered deals, but he refused. “I stood my ground for 15 months,” Silvaggio explained. He wasn’t going to agree to a deal when he had done nothing wrong, he said.
He was set to stand trial Feb. 3 when prosecutors agreed to dismiss the case, said Raye, Silvaggio’s lawyer.
Raye thanked District Attorney Steve Wolfson and prosecutor Christopher Laurent for being open to talking about and eventually dismissing the case.
Raye said Silvaggio was “a legitimate medical marijuana patient, who was suffering from the terror of being prosecuted only for using medicine that eased his pain. I’m glad that the government was part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.