California man hopes to change Louisiana’s marijuana law

By Terrapinzflyer · Oct 14, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    California man hopes to change Louisiana’s marijuana law

    THIBODAUX — When Matthew Zugsberger surveys his California garden, he sees what he calls a “beautiful” sight: dozens of marijuana plants in different stages of growth. Their leaves will be smoked, sold or given away, he says, to other people with medical marijuana prescriptions.

    Such a garden — legal in the state where Zugsberger lives — would be illegal in Louisiana because the state has no law permitting medical use or possession of marijuana.

    But Zugsberger, who faces drug charges in Lafourche Parish, aims to change that.

    Zugsberger is scheduled to appear in Judge John LeBlanc’s courtroom Thursday morning. He seeks to quash the indictment charging him with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

    “The smartest thing they could do if they don’t want to make case law is to drop the case,” said Zugsberger, a 33-year-old who suffered a collapsed spine while working as a deep sea diver in 2005.

    Zugsberger argues that he had a prescription from a doctor in his home state for more than two pounds of marijuana that State Police seized from him in Thibodaux on June 19, 2008. Medical marijuana helps ease his pains better than other drugs, Zugsberger said.

    But prosecutors dismiss this argument, stating his prescription is simply not valid under Louisiana law.

    The question posed in Zugsberger’s case is one of “first impression” in Louisiana, his attorney Jerri Smitko of Houma wrote in a memorandum to Judge LeBlanc. The term “first impression” means that a case asks a legal question that a state’s courts have not previously ruled upon.

    Nearly 16 months since his arrest, Zugsberger has not had a pre-trial hearing and his marijuana remains in State Police custody in Baton Rouge.

    He has stated that the Lafourche District Attorney’s Office is stalling because they do not want to be blamed for the legalization of medical marijuana in Louisiana.

    That is simply not true, said Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant II.

    He pointed out most of the case’s delays were the result of defense requests to have court dates moved. The length of the delays is not “earth-shattering,” he added.

    Further, Morvant guaranteed Zugsberger will get his wish to attempt making case law.

    “I’m going to give him the opportunity to do that,” Morvant said. “I’m going to take a much harder line and get him on the trial docket.”

    Thirteen states have laws legalizing medical marijuana with a valid doctor’s prescription.

    Zugsberger has a California license signed by doctor Milan Hopkins that allows him to have eight ounces of medical marijuana at any time. But that does not transfer to states, like Louisiana, which don’t have special medical marijuana laws.

    That has been a point of contention for marijuana law reform advocates.

    “Surely the disease or physical ailments doesn’t change because of geographic location,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    Zugsberger recently earned a big victory for medical marijuana reform near Seattle, Wash.

    A judge in King County ruled that police had to return 11 pounds seized from Zugsberger in February. The ruling came as part of his plea to a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge that landed him three months probation.

    The judge in the case ruled that police had to return Zugsberger’s marijuana in 1 1/2-pound increments, in accordance with Washington law. California law permits citizens to have 5 pounds of medical marijuana at any given time.

    The marijuana seized from Zugsberger in Louisiana will not be returned to him regardless of the outcome of his case, said Sgt. Brett Lang, a detective with the State Police’s narcotics division.

    The reason is the law at the time of the seizure stated marijuana was illegal to possess, distribute or grow in Louisiana. Any change in the law could not be applied retroactively, Lang said.

    By Raymond Legendre
    Staff Writer

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  1. old hippie 56
    With the situation of Louisiana politics and the good old boy network that been in place for a 100 years, doubt very seriously that this will be a issue.

    Raised in Louisiana.
  2. chillinwill
    A California man who says Louisiana’s marijuana laws need to be changed to accommodate medical users like him will get his day in court next March.
    Matthew Zugsberger, 33, is adamant about his desire to make case law in Louisiana that would allow people with serious medical conditions to possess marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.

    State Police arrested Zugsberger on June 19, 2008, for allegedly possessing more than two pounds of medical marijuana he says a California doctor prescribed him to fight pain caused by a spinal injury he suffered in 2005 while working as a deep-sea diver.

    Zugsberger’s case for possession with intent to distribute marijuana will go to trial March 22, Lafourche Parish District Judge John LeBlanc announced Thursday afternoon.

    LeBlanc set the date after rejecting defense attorney Jerri Smitko’s request to have the case thrown out based on evidence that her client had a prescription for his drugs. Smitko, a Houma-based attorney, said she plans to file an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

    Zugsberger previously stated he believed Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant II was stalling his case in an attempt to prevent him from making case law. His view changed following Thursday’s hearing, although he remained confident he would ultimately be found innocent.

    “He’s not going to offer me a plea deal or nothing,” Zugsberger said of Morvant. “He’s going to take it straight to trial. He’s making me his top priority.”

    While Zugsberger said he believes his case will act as a landmark test for Louisiana’s marijuana laws, Morvant does not share the defendant’s point of view.

    “This is not the laws of Louisiana being put on trial,” Morvant said. “This defendant is being put on trial for violating the laws of Louisiana.”

    Morvant further explained that Zugsberger’s case was given first priority for the week of March 22-26 because of the length it has spent on the court docket. It has nothing to do with Zugsberger’s prior comments about the District Attorney’s Office stalling, Morvant said.

    Thirteen states have medical -marijuana laws. California allows patients to possess a maximum of five pounds.

    Louisiana does not. However, Revised Statute 40:1046 mentions the use of marijuana for therapeutic reasons by patients suffering from glaucoma, undergoing chemotherapy or having spastic quadriplegia. Prescriptions must come from a physician licensed in the state and one licensed to prescribe Schedule I substances.

    Zugsberger does not have one of the three conditions recognized under state law, nor does he have a prescription licensed by a Louisiana physician.

    But Smitko argued passionately Thursday that Zugsberger’s possession of marijuana does fit Louisiana law.

    She pointed to a portion of Revised Statute 40:966 that states “it is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess a controlled dangerous substance classified in Schedule I unless such substance was obtained directly, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order, from a practitioner.”

    Zugsberger did obtain a valid prescription from a practitioner, Smitko said on three separate occasions. The last time drew the ire of Judge LeBlanc, who by that time had already decided against the motion.

    Before referring to state law, Smitko offered into evidence a medical-consent form signed by doctor Milan Hopkins and a California-issued card identifying Zugsberger as an authorized medical-marijuana patient. She pointed to the documents as proof Zugsberger meets Louisiana’s standards based on R.S. 40:966.

    First Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet countered that Zugsberger lacks a prescription from a Louisiana doctor, which is required by R.S. 40:1046.

    By Raymond Legendre
    October 16, 2009
    Houma Today
  3. old hippie 56
    More info on this:
    In 1978, Louisiana lawmakers approved a bill, later signed by then-Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, that allowed marijuana prescriptions for glaucoma and cancer patients. An amendment in 1991 extended the provision to paralysis patients.

    The original law set up the Marijuana Prescription Review Board, which was supposed to consider doctors' applications to treat patients with marijuana. However, the law didn't include a way for doctors or patients to get marijuana, and federal drug laws made it available only for research programs.

    Medical marijuana use never got off the ground in Louisiana, and state officials dissolved the review board in 1989. Since 1991, there's been no public discussion in Louisiana about medical marijuana.

    "No one has ever introduced any legislation or resolution," said state Rep. Richard Burford, R-Stonewall, a member of the House Health and Welfare Committee. "I would have to say there's no verbal interest. My first impression is I would not be in favor of that."

    Louisiana officials take their cue from federal drug laws, which in 1970 classified marijuana as a drug with no medical purposes.

    Malone noted that Louisiana isn't a direct-democracy state, meaning residents can't put up issues for a statewide vote. Only state lawmakers can propose law changes. Nine of the states that legalized medical marijuana are direct-democracy states and allow residents to propose ballot initiatives.
  4. jgarlopa
    Cowboy has been in a similar situation before, and thinks that even if Louisiana had no laws at all, the best that could happen for this guy is to lower the charge down to simple possession. Cowboy knows lots of people who could smoke 2lbs by themselves, and from the amount alone it is unfair to accuse someone of intent to supply.
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