Medical pot trial draws activists to Kitsap

The trial of an Olalla man accused of exceeding the allowable limit for medical marijuana is finishing its second week, and is drawing attention from throughout the state.

Bruce Olson, 54, is an approved medical marijuana patient who has four ailments that qualify him for such treatment, according to an expert witness for the defense.

Still, Olson was charged with illegal possession of marijuana with the intent to sell when Kitsap County detectives found 48 plants in a growing operation in May 2007.

Both Olson and his wife are medical marijuana patients, but have faced the same distribution charge. The law about acceptable quantities of medical marijuana has been more strictly defined since Pamela Olson’s trial.

Pamela Olson is now serving probation, having pleaded out to avoid jail time. As part of her sentence, she is not using the medical marijuana that she claims is necessary to ease her pain.

The case has become a flashpoint for medical marijuana advocates, or what Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge characterizes as “a well-organized lobby whose purpose is to see the laws changed.”

Approximately two dozen people, mostly advocates or medical marijuana patients, are observing the trial and showing their support.

About 15 of them have taken residency in a local bed-and-breakfast, doubling up on rooms while they attend every minute of the trial.

One attendee, Ellen Van Bockern of Maple Valley, was attending for personal reasons, since she hoped to begin a grow operation for a sick friend.

“I want to grow marijuana legally,” she said. “If they get off, then I can start my own operation and help my friend.”

Attendees maintained the law was wrong, and that Olson was being singled out for special treatment. A common argument is that governments who prosecute these crimes are wasting taxpayer money.

“Kitsap County doesn’t have a lot of money,” said patient Steve Elliott, a Kingston resident. “This prosecution is wasting money left and right. And if they are prosecuting Bruce, then they can come after me.”

Hauge takes issue with the blanket assumption of Olson’s innocence, saying that the prosecutor has enough evidence to convict.

Otherwise, they would not be pursuing the case.

“This is not a special case,” he said. “We have not singled anyone out. If someone meets the medical marijuana criteria, we will not prosecute them. But if someone uses the medical marijuana status to justify recreational use or selling for profit, we will prosecute.”

In response to the activists’ contention that tax money was being unnecessarily wasted, the Port Orchard Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to quantify the cost of the Olsons’ prosecutions.

Hauge said that his office would not be able to supply such detailed information.

“We had no special expenditures for this case,” he said. “We didn’t fly in any expert witnesses, and the prosecutor isn’t getting paid overtime. But we don’t keep records on that level, as to how many hours are spent on a particular case.”

Prosecutor Alexis Foster grilled the witnesses on details, asking yes-or-no questions that the witnesses could not or would not provide.

She attempted to disqualify Dr. Thomas Orvald, who issued Olson’s medicinal marijuana recommendation as an expert witness, a motion Superior Court Judge Leila Mills denied.

In separate questions Foster asked Orvald whether marijuana was habit forming and if it could be abused, requesting a yes or no answers. He eventually affirmed both assertions, but without using the word “yes.”

Foster then pressed Orvald about details of his income, which prompted defense attorney Thomas Balerud to object, “Dr. Orvald is not being prosecuted for tax fraud, so I think we should move on to something more substantial.” 

Orvald testified that Olson suffered from four ailments, each of which qualified him for medical marijuana treatment.

Orvald said he sees patients about once a year, at which time he approves or declines another year of treatment. And while many patients initially try to fool him into providing marijuana for recreational use, most current patients are approved for an extension.

Orvald testified throughout Wednesday afternoon. The defense was scheduled to continue on Thursday.

Closing arguments are expected on Monday or Tuesday.

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