â€œWe must fight the system with knowledge and vigorâ€
As part of the ongoing war waged by District Attorney (DA) Bonnie Dumanis against medical marijuana in San Diego, Nathan Archer, a legitimate medical cannabis patient was arrested, charged, tried and convicted of cultivating ninety-eight plants, and possessing 1.7 pounds of dried cannabis. The plants and dried cannabis were seized from his house during a raid in 2006 by the San Diego County cross jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force (NTF).
Although pressured several times by the DA to take a plea bargain, and despite having faced multiple legal hurdles along the way, Nathan refused to take a deal and has taken his case all the way to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
Nathan Archer suffers from chronic pain as a result of a 1995 construction accident which permanently damaged his leg and left him with a lifetime of chronic pain. After years of prescribed painkillers and all the side effects that came with their continued use, Nathan looked into medical marijuana as an alternative. He found the use of medical marijuana helped his chronic pain and allowed him to function normally without being in a constant â€˜zombie likeâ€™ pharmaceutical state. In 2004, he obtained a recommendation for medical marijuana from Dr. Sterner in San Diego and started a small garden.
Rudy Reyes, who suffered burns to over 65% of his body during the 2003 San Diego Cedar fire, testified at Nathanâ€™s trial. Rudy said he designated Nathan to be his primary caregiver for the purpose of cultivating medical marijuana as he could not cultivate it himself since the police had previously taken all of his plants, and the dispensary where he had been obtaining his medicine had been shut down by the NTF.
At that time in 2006, everyone in the medical cannabis community was interpreting the law in a similar way; in order to grow for other qualified patients, the law seemed to require that the patients designate the person growing for them as their primary caregiver for that limited purpose.
The idea wasnâ€™t whether someone was officially called a caregiver or a collective, it was that patients could help other patients and work together towards the same goal of getting the medicine that helps them live a normal life. During that time, many people like Nathan took the extra step of having themselves designated as caregivers in an attempt to stay as incompliance with the then current interpretation of the law as they possibly could.
This was a couple of years prior to the California Supreme Court decision in People v. Mentch which outlined that cultivating medicine for the patient alone does not qualify one as their primary caregiver. After that, most dispensaries and patients organized into collectives and coops and began to operate as such.
The decision by the Court of Appeal came back in November 2009 and reversed part of the original conviction. The possession charge was thrown out. The appellate court found that limits set forth in SB420 unconstitutionally amended Proposition 215, an action which could not be taken without a statewide vote. This was prior to the recent California Supreme Court decision in People v. Kelley which confirmed the same thing.
Nathanâ€™s cultivation charge still stands. The 4th District Court found that because Nathan admitted that he had patients designate him as a primary caregiver for the limited purpose of cultivating medical cannabis, he was not entitled to the primary caregiver defense and was therefore guilty of the cultivation charge.
A week before the partial reversal came out, Nathanâ€™s probation officer called to tell him that he was in violation of not having registered as a Narcotics Offender, and would have to go to court for a bail revocation hearing.
In December 2009, Nathan was back in San Diego Superior Court to defend against having his probation revoked as a result of not registering as a Narcotics Offender. He spoke on his own behalf to the judge in front of almost a dozen supporters and members of San Diego Americans for Safe Access, who organized the court support for Nathan.
He declared to the court â€œI am opposing the requirement that I register as a narcotics offender because I believe it is unconstitutional, punitive in nature, and will impose a social stigma that will forever mar the perception of my character. I believe this because I legally use marijuana for chronic pain, and not for any other reason. My conviction is directly related to that legal use.â€
Nathan went on to request that the court continue the hearing so that he could seek adequate legal counsel to appear and effectively present his legal position. He explained that he did not have sufficient legal background to understand the procedural basis on which the arguments should be made, and therefore needed more time.
Judge Szumovski allowed Nathan to hold off on registering as a drug offender while he is appealing the cultivation charge and attempting to find counsel to appear and effectively present his legal position regarding the narcotics offender registration issue.
After the court hearing in December, NUG Magazine had a chance to speak with Nathan about his future plans. He explained â€œwe must fight the system with knowledge and vigorâ€¦ San Diego County courts, prominently displayed numerous violations of my rights to Due Process under the 6th and 14th amendments, and I intend to stand up to and expose the mechanistic usage of the system in order to get a guilty verdict, which we all have suffered from in San Diego Countyâ€.
Nathan can be reached through his email address:
The judge and jury in Nathanâ€™s trial also heard testimony from expert witness Chris Conrad who explained that consuming dried marijuana in food uses four times more product than if the dried plant is inhaled by smoking, thereby showing that the amount possessed by Nathan was not unreasonable based on what he has seen others use for their own medical needs. The expert was also allowed to view pictures of the plants seized from Nathanâ€™s garden, and he concluded that they were at least three months away from being mature enough to harvest. This testimony completely disputed the prosecutionâ€™s assertion that Nathan possessed ninety-eight healthy and mature plants, when probably half of them were already dead and would have never yielded any medicine.
During Nathanâ€™s trial in San Diego Superior Court, Judge Kerry Wells instructed the jurors to use SB420 numerical plant limits (eight ounces of dried bud and six mature or 12 immature plants) to decide on the case, as a result of which Nathan was convicted on both counts. Nathan knew the conviction was unjust, as the number of plants in his possession was in line with his own and the other patientsâ€™ medical needs. He decided to press on with his case and appealed his erroneous conviction to Californiaâ€™s 4th District Court of Appeals.