The first time San Diego attempted to prosecute Jovan Jackson, in 2009, the Navy vet and former operator of the Answerdam medical cannabis collective won a full acquittal on all charges. The jury actually scolded prosecutor Chris Lindbergh for bringing such a misguided case to court.
Rather than stand down, however, the authorities re-raided Answerdam, re-arrested its operator, and then attempted to prosecute Jackson again on basically the same charges, less than a year after his first acquittal. A dozen other San Diego collectives were raided the same day—all part of of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis's much touted “Operation Green Rx,” a coordinated campaign against medical cannabis storefront dispensaries spearheaded in conjunction with federal officials. The goal of which was to push medical cannabis back underground via the criminal justice system, despite the will of the people and the protections of California's Prop 215 and Senate Bill 420.
Having already convinced a jury of his peers once that he was not guilty under state law, Jackson opted once again to refuse any plea deals and put his fate in the hands of a jury. Only this time, in court, San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore prevented Jackson's legal team from in any way arguing that their client had been in full compliance with California's Medical Marijuana Program Act. In fact, Judge Shore called his own state's medical marijuana laws a “scam,” showing open contempt for not just the defendant, but all medical cannabis patients and providers.
Thus shielded from the true nature of Jackson's alleged crimes, this time the jury convicted.
But then, with help from national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, Jackson contested that decision before the Fourth District Court of Appeal, where his initial courtroom defeat ended up yielding a huge victory, when the appeals court not only reversed his conviction—sending the case back to superior court to be retried—but also established a significant, statewide precedent assuring medical cannabis collectives and their members basic fair treatment and free speech at trial. The appeals court also definitively rejected the prosecution's contention that only actively participating cannabis cultivators can be considered part of a legally operating collective.
As Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joe Elford explained, the Appeals Court's landmark decision “not only recognizes the right of dispensaries to exist and provide medical marijuana to their patient members, it also grants a defense for those providers in state court. By rejecting the Attorney General's argument that patients who utilize dispensaries must collaborate, or 'come together' in 'some way' to cultivate the marijuana they purchase, the court is establishing a clear standard for dispensaries across the state."
Now, Jackson's case returns to superior court for a third go-around, only this time the accused will be fully authorized to base his defense on adherence to the Medical Marijuana Program Act.
Most recently, on October 4, Jackson and his legal team, Lance Rogers and Rezwan Khan, squared off against Chris Lindberg, the prosecutor who's been after him since 2009, in a contentious debate over jury instructions for the upcoming re-trial. Despite the appeals court's clear instructions, Prosecutor Lindberg tried to keep as much information about medical marijuana out of the upcoming trial as possible. Fortunately, he no longer has an openly anti-cannabis judge to back him up.
Instead, Judge Louis R. Hanoian, who will preside over the re-trial, used the jury instruction hearing to make clear his own preference for a fully informed jury.
“The court of appeals said evidence must be allowed to support the MMPA defense,” Judge Hanoian flatly asserted. “I will not be saying to the jury that the MMPA does not apply in this case.”
On October 21, the re-trial will begin, a case which local, state, and national medical cannabis advocates consider pivotal, with long ranging ramifications no matter what the outcome. Meanwhile, since Jackson's collective was first raided in 2008, he's watched as a jury acquitted him, an appeals court confirmed his right to a fair trial was violated, two states fully legalized marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales to adults for recreational purposes, and US Justice Department announced a new hands-off policy for state regulated cannabis. And yet San Diego District Attorney’s office press on in what appears a highly selective prosecution. At great cost to his constitutional rights, and the health and well-being of those who relied on Answerdam for safe access to medical cannabis.