Encinitas man faces prison, felonies for $50 pot sale

Activists rally to aid of Brandon Smith against charges

ENCINITAS — Is $50 worth of marijuana worth a young man’s future?

This is the question that medical marijuana activists are asking as they rally around an Encinitas man, Brandon Michael Smith, 26, whose attorney says faces seven years in state prison — and other life-altering implications — in the wake of a September 2014 arrest for allegedly trying to sell about $50 worth of marijuana in a parking lot of an Encinitas shopping center.

A second man involved in the transaction was cited for possession of under an ounce of marijuana.

Smith faces trial on the charges June 22.

His attorney, Michael Cindrich, said that he believes Smith was operating within his rights as a medical marijuana patient and collective member.

All current plea discussions have involved Smith still facing felony charges, which would hinder his ability to finish college, as he would be ineligible for federal and state financial aid, Cindrich said.

Cindrich says the two charges — sale of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell — carry a maximum of seven years. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office, however, said Smith faces a maximum of four years.

“It’s not just the jail time,” Cindrich said. “It’s the labeling as a felon; this would ruin his life. He will be forced to withdraw from school, he won’t be able to get his degree, and it will be pretty much a downward spiral from there.

“Without a degree, it becomes that much more difficult to get a job, especially if you are a felon,” Cindrich said. “Here you have someone who wants to go to school, and graduate, and get a job and work hard and contribute to society, but he is in a position where he may be prevented from doing that.”

The District Attorney’s Office declined comment on the details of the case.

Cindrich said Smith was pulled over after sheriff’s deputies observed him allegedly selling marijuana to another man. During the traffic stop, they reportedly found five grams of marijuana on his person, which is roughly valued at $50.

Cindrich said that Smith was abiding by all state laws that regulate the use of medical marijuana and the formation of collection — laws that Cindrich acknowledged can be interpreted very liberally.

“Essentially, anyone with $40 and a heartbeat can get a doctor’s recommendation for a medical marijuana card and then can legally purchase, grow, distribute and use medical cannabis,” Cindrich said, noting that all it takes to get a medical marijuana card in California is a doctor’s oral recommendation and that a group of patients can purchase and grow marijuana as loosely-formed collectives.

“The District Attorney’s office is fighting a battle that history will ultimately reveal is a lost one. All across the country we are seeing the movement toward full legalization.”

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, and illegal under federal law. But voters in several states, including California, have voted to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and four states — Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Colorado — have legalized recreational use.

However, a number of municipalities — including Encinitas — have voted against medical marijuana storefronts.

Encinitas voters in November 2014 voted against Measure F, which would have paved the way for the city to regulate so-called “pot shops.”

Smith’s case has become a rallying point for a number of medical-marijuana activists and groups critical of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an organization of which Cindrich is the executive director of the local chapter, The Human Solution International, Americans for Safe Access and the California Cannabis Coalition have all held rallies in support of Smith.

A Facebook page for one such group, Citizens for the Recall of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, has urged supporters to attend Smith’s court dates and rallies on his behalf.

“The outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous,” Cindrich said. “A number of people are puzzled and upset by the District Attorney’s stance on this and other cases.”

Cindrich said there hasn’t been any push back from anti-marijuana activists against Smith.

One anti-marijuana activist, Scott Chipman, who fought actively against Measure F and is involved with several other national anti-marijuana legislation drives, said he was surprised that the District Attorney’s office would pursue Smith’s case so vigorously, considering the relatively small amount of marijuana involved.

“As far as I am concerned, the real culprits are not the people selling a little bit here and there on the streets, the real culprits are the stores that sell it by the pound,” Chipman said. “These are drug dealers behind glass doors selling large quantities of weed, and that is where enforcement should be focused.

“I would characterize this (Smith’s case) as a very rare case,” Chipman said.

Smith will be back in court Friday for a pre-trial conference, at which time plea arrangements could again be discussed between the two sides.

This story has been updated since its original posting.

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