Drug Law

Lawyers Protest Judge's Denial of Medical Marijuana Defense

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Two defense attorneys in Washington state are carrying out a unique protest in response to a judge’s ruling that they cannot present a medical marijuana defense. They are refusing to fully participate conventionally, entering no opening statement, and declining to cross-examine the prosecution’s wirtnesses in the marijuana case that the state of Washington is prosecuting against 58 year-old William Kurtz who was arrested in March after the Thurston County Narcotics Force found 42 marijuana plants in his home.

Kurtz said outside of the court on Tuesday that he did grow the marijuana, but he did not sell any of it. Kurtz appeared in court in a wheelchair and suffers from “hereditary spastic paraplegia” according to a letter from an Olympia physician. Kurtz, whose speech is slurred, has progressive loss of function related to the familial neurologic condition.

His doctor’s letter was presented to Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy, but not allowed into evidence. After the prosecuting attorney presented his motion Monday to bar Kurtz from making a medicinal marijuana defense, Mr. Kurtz’s lawyers, Doug Hiatt (pictured) and David Lousteau say they should have been given more time to prepare a response. Instead, Murphy ruled in favor of Jackson’s motion on Monday and continued to opening statements.

The Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Scott Jackson had asked that Kurtz be barred from presenting the defenses because he maintains that Kurtz does not qualify for the defense under the state’s medical marijuana statute and insisted that the 42 plants and the additional 700 grams of cannabis found inside the home would have been more than the loosely defined 60 day supply granted by the state’s medical marijuana statute. Murphy granted the motion.

William Kurtz did not have any valid documentation proving that he qualified for medical marijuana when detectives went to his home on March first for a “knock and talk” operation. They found cannabis on Mr. Williams and he immediately admitted that he grew marijuana. Kurtz’s attorneys say that unfortunately for their client, there is no treatment to prevent or cure his condition and he is left to manage his symptoms that include severe chronic daily pain. Under Washington State law, the medical use of cannabis can benefit patients diagnosed with a medical condition, like Kurtz’s “spasticity disorder”. Kurtz says that he uses marijuana to help manage his constant pain.

On Tuesday, Kurtz’s attorneys did not make an opening statement. The trial for unlawful manufacture of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana went ahead, but the lawyers did not say anything else until the Judge asked them if they had any objection to the prosecution exhibits, where Lousteau replied, “No response, your honor”. Neither defense lawyers cross-examined the three prosecution witnesses.

Outside of the courthouse on Tuesday, prosecuting attorney Jackson declined to comment on the case citing that the trial is ongoing, but defense attorney Doug Hiatt stated outside of the courtroom that believes the Washington State Supreme Court ruled back in January that a defendant can move forward with a medical defense if he can present a written authorization with a Washington State physician that he has a qualifying condition, whether the authorization was written before or after criminal charges had been filed. Lousteau says the ruling was unfair on a procedural level. They are both committed to appealing to a higher court if Kurtz is convicted. Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments in Kurtz’s trial today.