Associated Press , Published October 15 2013
Medical pot case likely head to ND Supreme Court
Brian Kuruc and his wife, Rebecca Larson, of Dickinson, were apprehended in January at a Casselton motel, in eastern North Dakota, and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. They have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys Mark Friese and Charles Sheeley say their clients had authorization from Washington state to use marijuana to treat their medical conditions. In Kuruc's case, Friese said, "his medical marijuana authorization allowed him to possess far more than what he possessed here."
East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin issued an opinion earlier this month on the case, saying that North Dakota law considers marijuana to be a Schedule I controlled substance, which is determined to have no accepted medical use for treatment in the United States. Other states have disagreed.
"But this case must be decided based on the statutes in effect in North Dakota," Corwin wrote.
Corwin said that should the case go to trial, the jury would not be instructed that a pot prescription from another state is a valid defense for possession with intent to deliver, or even for simple possession.
Friese and Sheeley said their clients plan next week to enter conditional guilty pleas, which would include a recommended sentence of time already served and supervised probation. Then an appeal could be filed to the Supreme Court.
The so-called Alford pleas would admit possession of marijuana and tampering with physical evidence, but deny intent to distribute. Friese said there's "absolutely no evidence," such as cash, cellphone records or ledgers that shows the defendants were going to sell the pot.
Cass County prosecutor Kara Schmitz Olson, who said the medical marijuana certificates for Larson and Kuruc "appear to be valid," emphasized that the defendants have yet to plead guilty, but she agreed that taking their case to the high court is better than going to trial and costing the taxpayers.
"If they decide that Judge Corwin was wrong," she said of the justices, "then it will obviously direct the Legislature to either take action if that's what not what they want to see happen in our state, or by inaction, allow that."
Lawyers might also appeal whether deputies conducted an illegal search and seizure.
Court documents show that officers responded to a complaint about a strong odor of marijuana coming from a motel room on the morning of Jan. 9. Larson told officers that they did not have permission to enter, but they eventually forced their way in after seeing Kuruc grab a large duffel bag and run into the bathroom, according to the documents.
Officers then knocked in the door to the bathroom, where Kuruc was flushing marijuana from the duffel bag down the toilet. Deputies took steps to "freeze the scene" while they waited for a warrant to be issued, documents show.
Corwin ruled that incriminating statements made by either defendant before the warrant was issued, as well as evidence found in a rental vehicle, could not be used at trial. But he did not throw out other evidence.
Kuruc works as a certified professional welder and Larson is a quality control analyst in the western North Dakota oil patch. Their lawyers would not disclose their ailments, but Washington law requires that a person be diagnosed with a "terminal or debilitating medical condition" to obtain a medical marijuana certificate.
"It's an interesting argument. It's going to be a good one for the Supreme Court to hear," Sheeley said. "People might think they are scamming the system here or something, but they're hard-working, blue-collar type people who had a prescription for something they felt helped with their medical ailments."
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