SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A medical marijuana patient and caregiver whose plants were seized last year by drug agents won’t be sentenced in the case against him as long as he adheres to the conditions of a plea agreement he reached with the state last week.
James Fowler, 45, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to Class E marijuana cultivation Thursday in Somerset County Superior Court under a “deferred disposition” agreement. That means the conviction will be taken off his record in February 2012 if he stays out of trouble, according to Somerset County District Attorney Evert Fowle.
Fowler, whose home was raided in March 2010, originally was charged with more serious Class D cultivation and Class E possession charges.
Drug officers from several agencies seized 19 marijuana plants from Fowler’s home on March 19, 2010, and left him with six, though Fowler claims the total number of plants he had was technically fewer because some of them were male and therefore not producing usable marijuana buds.
Fowler has maintained that the plants were for himself and three other patients for whom he served as a medical marijuana provider in accordance with state law, which would allow him a total of 24 plants. Fowler told the Bangor Daily News that he was confident the case would have gone his way if it had gone to trial, but opted for the plea agreement so his patients wouldn’t have to appear in court.
“I didn’t want to put my patients on the stand and force them to explain to the world what their medical problems are,” he said. “I’m tired and weary with the whole court process and I just wanted it to be over with.”
Fowler attempted to have the charges thrown out by claiming the search warrant for his home was obtained illegally, but Superior Court Justice John Nivison rejected that argument last month.
District Attorney Fowle said the state opted for the plea agreement because of Fowler’s relatively clean criminal record, and what he called “ambiguities” in Maine’s medical marijuana law during the March 19 raid. At the time, the law was in transition between the version that had been on the books since 1999 and a new law enacted by citizen initiative in November 2009. The citizen initiative was altered by the Legislature in April 2010 to create the current medical marijuana law.
“We thought this outcome was fair because we were dealing with the analysis of three different laws,” said Fowle. “We want to make sure that if there’s an ambiguity in the criminal law that we’re operating under, that it’s resolved in favor of the citizen.”
Fowle said at the time of last week’s plea agreement that Fowler had provided proof of having only one marijuana patient in addition to himself, which would have allowed him to have up to 12 marijuana plants.
“According to the information in our possession, Mr. Fowler was not a caregiver for enough people on March 19 to make him completely legal,” said Fowle. “We were satisfied that he was a valid caregiver for at least one person. … We felt a compromise was in order.”
Fowler said he was pleased with the outcome of the criminal proceedings, but isn’t open to compromise when it comes to his belief that his marijuana plants were seized illegally.
“I still retain the right to sue them and I am going to sue them,” said Fowler. “I had six months’ worth of time and money invested in those plants. When they walked out the door with it, there went my whole fortune.”