Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 2, 2010
Trial starts for medical pot user caught with three pounds

Was Matthew Zugsberger illegally transporting marijuana for sale with his luggage - and pants - stuffed with three pounds pot as he passed through Sacramento International Airport?

Or was he a medical user, entitled to take his stash from Sacramento to New Orleans under California law and a Mendocino County physician's recommendation that said he could possess as much as five pounds and 25 plants?

In opening arguments this morning in a felony trial that could land Zugsberger in prison for four years, prosecutor Satnam Rattu argued this is a case of such excess that it leads to only once conclusion: Zugsberger intended to sell a lot of pot.

"Ladies and gentlemen, medical marijuana is legal in California to a certain extent," Rattu told the jury. "This case exceeds those limits. There is no reason to be traveling with three pounds of marijuana to Louisiana."

But Zugsberger's defense lawyer Grant Pegg told jurors Zugsberger, an ex-deep sea diver who has treated himself with marijuana since he suffered crushed vertebrae in an oil platform accident, had ample reason to be carrying that amount.

He said Zugsberger, who has difficulty smoking, was taking the marijuana to a Louisiana master chef. He said the chef was to mix it into pasta and ice cream dishes so that Zugsberger could ingest the drug.

Pegg chided the prosecution for seeking a felony conviction with neither evidence of marijuana sales or intent nor knowledge of Zugsberger's "actual medical needs."

"He has a valid medical marijuana permit," Pegg said. "He doesn't use marijuana for kicks."

A Sacramento police detective later testified that Zugsberger, who turned 34 today, had more than enough pot to smoke every two hours, every day, for a year.

Rattu used a projection screen to show jurors Zugsberger's medical referral - a recommendation from Dr. Milan Hopkins from Upper Lake who wrote: "Any one of my patients may need to grow 25 mature plants and possess five pounds of cannabis for their yearly medical needs."

Zugsberger later took the stand in his defense, telling jurors he ingests at least 13 grams of pot a day, "some smoked, mostly eaten." He said he consumes up to a quarter pound on days of extreme nausea or pain. "My tolerance is up there," he testified.

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