Kitsap medical marijuana defendant acquitted

Medical marijuana patient Bruce Olson (right) who was acquitted on two counts of drug trafficking, thanks juror Doug Knowles after the verdict.  - Charlie Bermant
Medical marijuana patient Bruce Olson (right) who was acquitted on two counts of drug trafficking, thanks juror Doug Knowles after the verdict.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

A medical marijuana patient being prosecuted in Kitsap County Superior Court for drug trafficking was found not guilty on Tuesday morning, after a jury ruled that his use of the drug was within the law.

The jury deliberated for approximately two hours prior to its ruling.

After the verdict, the prosecution maintained that the case had nothing to do with the treatment itself. Instead, it had to do whether defendant Bruce Wayne Olson was selling the homegrown drug for profit.

“Each county is struggling to understand what is an appropriate amount of marijuana for medical use,” said Defense Attorney Thomas Balerud. “The prosecutors should look to the will of the public to determine this. In this case, the jury spoke its mind and determined that no lawyers should be able to overrule a doctor’s judgement.”

Prosecutor Alexis Foster said this was not a precedent-setting case and would not affect how such violations are prosecuted in the future.

“This was never about medical marijuana,” she said. “We believed it was an illegal manufacturing case, and that the defendant was breaking the law. We will continue to prosecute anything we believe to be a distribution site.”

Balerud positioned the case as a test of medical marijuana use, boiled down to the testimony of two witnesses: Steven Kenney for the prosecution, a former drug user who testified about Olson’s drug dealing, and Dr. Thomas Orvald, a cardiac surgeon who has approved medical marijuana patients in several states.

Balerud attempted to balance the witnesses, asking jurors whether they found a doctor to have more or less credibility than a former addict who could not supply specific details. Foster disagreed with this characterization, saying that Kenney was experienced in the world he was describing and was able to recognize and testify about illegal activity.

Foster later told the jury that Kenney's testimony lacked impact “because he was nervous.”

Both Olson and his wife, Pamela, were arrested in May 2007 after an investigation by WestNet, the local drug enforcement task force. At the time, they had a grow operation with 48 plants, which fit one assessment of the legal amount for a medical marijuana patient. At the time each patient was allowed 24 plants, and both Olsons were approved patients.

The prosecution alleged that the crop was being sold commercially, and that the Olsons were hiding behind medical marijuana laws as cover for a drug operation.

Pamela Olson accepted a plea last year. Bruce Olson decided to go to trial as the law had changed and he was advised that he had a better chance of acquittal.

The trial was attended by a floating group of medical marijuana activists, from patients to political activists. Several of them noted that it was rare for such cases to go to trial, as defendants usually enter a plea.

These activists filled the courtroom throughout the trial, with no visible support for the prosecution’s position.

Olson, who turns 55 on Wednesday, maintained a subdued manner throughout the trial, and barely talked when he was in the courtroom. This changed on Tuesday, when he was laughing and joking with his attorney prior to the verdict’s reading.

When it was announced Olson blurted "thank you, thank you you guys" to the jury, prompting Superior Court Judge Leila Mills to repeat her admonition to stay quiet until the jury was released.

“As a businessman I am really discouraged at all the money that was spent on this trial,” Olson said. “It was a waste, and a lot of people who have seen the trial and are in business are wondering why I was prosecuted.”

Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge said last week that his office did not provide a more vigorous prosecution to this case as any other, and that the office did not spend a lot of money flying in expert witnesses. When he was asked later about Kelley’s expenses he said he did not know all the details of the case, but still felt it was not excessively expensive.

On March 18 the Port Orchard Independent filed a public records disclosure request to determine the specific costs of the case. At the time, Hauge said that his office “does not specifically track cases” and probably would not be able to provide this data. However, the Independent received notification this week that the request would be addressed within 30 days.

Kitsap County will continue as a battleground in the legal tussle over medical marijuana when the pre-trial hearing for patient Glenn Musgrove opens on Friday. Many of the activists who appeared in support of Olson trial intend to return to Port Orchard for Musgrove’s hearing.

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