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EDITORIAL: D.A. rightly drops prosecution of medical marijuana patient


David Silvaggio is a case study in the overreach of the war on drugs and the long overdue common sense that, ever so slowly, finally is changing the course of this costly, counterproductive conflict.

On Monday, the Clark County district attorney’s office dropped felony drug charges against Mr. Silvaggio, ending a pointless prosecution that cost the 50-year-old Las Vegas medical marijuana patient his livelihood. It was a just decision.

As reported Monday by the Review-Journal’s Francis McCabe, Mr. Silvaggio grew marijuana plants at his home to treat psoriasis and chronic pain from two failed shoulder surgeries. He held a valid state medical marijuana card when his house caught fire Oct. 5, 2012, allowing firefighters a look at his stock. Months after the blaze, police arrested the cancer survivor, alleging he had too many plants for his personal use. Police and prosecutors accused him of selling the drug.

Mr. Silvaggio was charged just as the Legislature was crafting a new state law to regulate medical marijuana. Voters amended the state constitution more than a decade ago to allow prescription use of marijuana, but the enabling legislation made it illegal to buy or sell the drug, and it allowed patients to lawfully grow and possess too little marijuana to treat many ailments. A District Court judge found that law, which clearly defied the will of voters, unconstitutional.

The new state law, which won bipartisan support in Carson City, allows up to 40 dispensaries in Clark County to sell marijuana to patients with a prescription. The first of those dispensaries won’t open for months, assuming any local governments follow through on licensing them.

As this law and its regulations were being written, the district attorney’s office moved forward with the prosecution of Mr. Silvaggio. He refused to accept a plea bargain that would have reduced the charges. He demanded a trial.

Thankfully, that won’t happen. Defense attorney Julie Raye credited District Attorney Steve Wolfson and prosecutor Christopher Laurent for hearing her concerns and deciding to dismiss the case. Ms. Raye said Mr. 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.”

Indeed. The state is moving forward with taxed, regulated sales of prescription marijuana. Colorado has started selling the drug to recreational users. Local authorities had no evidence Mr. Silvaggio was a dealer, only a determination that he couldn’t possibly need all the marijuana he was growing. The politics of marijuana are changing rapidly, so much so that a majority of Americans now favor legalization, according to Gallup. The days of “Refer Madness” scare tactics are long gone. Locking up Mr. Silvaggio, who lost his massage therapist license as a result of this case, wouldn’t serve the public interest.

Bravo to Mr. Wolfson for dropping this case. Now he must review similar cases against medical marijuana patients and consider dismissing them, as well, and directing scarce prosecutorial resources toward legitimate threats to public safety. Sick people who smoke pot are not criminals.

 

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