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Victory In Kitsap! Lessons and Moments From the Olson Medical Marijuana Trial

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Medical marijuana patient Bruce Olson, left, with attorney Thomas Balerud at the Kitsap County Courthouse, March 24, 2009. Photo by Reality Catcher

Medical marijuana patients may be a little safer in their homes in Kitsap County, Washington tonight.

Almost two years after his arrest, and after a very expensive prosecution, 55-year-old patient Bruce Olson of Olalla has been acquitted by a jury of all charges stemming from the bust of a hidden marijuana grow-room.

The case has national implications, has received lots of attention and could make a huge difference in future medical marijuana enforcement in Kitsap County and elsewhere in Washington. The importance of the Olson case wasn't lost on local and King County medical marijuana activists, who attended the entire trial en masse to offer their moral support and to silently witness to the trial.

The Back Story In Brief

Back in May of 2007, Olson and his then-estranged wife, Pamela, 51, were both arrested after the WestNET Drug Task Force raided their home and seized 48 immature marijuana plants growing in an underground bunker behind the main structure.

Bruce lost his home and now lives in a travel trailer due to legal costs involved in fighting two felony charges brought by the Kitsap County Prosecutor's Office in May 2007. "Everything I've worked for in my entire life is gone," said Olson, who suffers from arthritis and other ailments following decades as a stonemason. "But it's all worth it for the cause: quit arresting medical marijuana patients."

The prosecution's expensive boondoggle was all for naught; even flying in a "confidential informant," Stephen Kenney, from Oklahoma, didn't help. (Neither did the fact that Kenney, an obvious tweaker who admitted doing hard drugs and alcohol every day for 19 years, is in the running for "most unconvincing prosecution witness in history."

Ineptitude And Arrogance: Not A Good Combination

Kitsap County Head Prosecutor Russell Hauge handed off the case to Alexis Foster. It must have been a hell of an initiation for Foster, as her first-ever jury trial. Her greenness showed; while her command of the facts showed a certain grim competence, her lack of connection to the jury showed advanced cluelessness.

Here's a couple of hints, Alexis: It does NOT help your case to have a visible smirk on your face every time the judge rules in your favor. And you really should consider working on another "speaking voice" to use before juries. The one you used in this trial, along with all the unnecessary sarcasm and pissiness with which you imbued it, quickly becomes about as enjoyable as fingernails on a chalkboard.

In American justice, there's only one force in the courtroom more powerful than the judge, and that's the jury. Alexis, you can't act obnoxiously throughout a one-week trial and expect to win over many converts. Nobody likes a jerk.

Oh, and you don't get to pick where medical marijuana patients position their grow-rooms, and your attempts to second-guess the Olsons on this point wasn't helpful to your case. Also, your insistence that since Bruce used medical marijuana he should apparently, in your non-medical estimation, suddenly no longer need any other prescription drugs at all, is just laughable.

But, in all fairness, Foster was handed a very hard case to win. At the time of the Olsons' arrest, the exact number of marijuana plants which may be legally grown by patients was undefined, with one WestNET detective testifying before the jury that their "working number" for such grows was 27 plants per patient.

That all changed last July, when, at the direction of the Washington Legislature, the Department of Health released new "presumptive limits" for patients of 15 growing plants and 24 ounces of dried, usable marijuana.

Predictably -- and just as many medical marijuana advocates had feared -- it didn't take long for law enforcement to try to use these presumptive limits, supposedly instituted for the protection of patients, providers, and police, as a weapon against patients. Prosecutor Foster repeatedly and loudly referred to the new 15-plant limit throughout the trial, but the jury wasn't fooled. Bruce Olson's lawyer, Thomas Balerud, was very effective in telling the jury that there were, in effect, NO plant limits in force at the time of the arrests.

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I'm a 49-year-old writer, editor, ex-musician, dreamer, reality catcher, ex-con, and father. I have three kids, six tattoos, a criminal record, a terminal disease, and an attitude. I was born in Alabama and spent the first 38 years of my life there (more...)
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