Davis cleared in drug case Carroll judge says seeds don't justify marijuana charges

June 11, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer Staff writer Traci A. Johnson contributed to this article.

Imprisoned marijuana-rights activist Pamela Snowhite Davis is used to losing almost every time she appears before a Carroll County judge.

But yesterday, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. acquitted the 48-year-old Westminster woman of the four most recent drug charges filed against her by the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force.

"Thank God!" said the shackled Davis -- a self-proclaimed "old hippie" -- before she was escorted out of the courtroom to go back to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup. Davis is serving two years of a five-year sentence on an April 28 felony drug conviction involving less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

She was acquitted yesterday on charges of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and maintaining a common nuisance. Those charges stemmed from a raid in November at Liberation, her Westminster counterculture store, in which the task force seized several pounds of marijuana seeds.

The basis of the prosecution's case was that the seeds germinated in a state police crime laboratory. One key state witnesses, a state police chemist, told Judge Burns that the seeds germinated and likely would grow into marijuana plants.

Judge Burns said he needed more evidence to return a guilty verdict.

"The issue here is the presence of marijuana," the judge said in rendering his verdict after the daylong bench trial. "To really prove whether the seeds were sterile or fertile, why weren't the seeds taken to soil so we could see if it would grow?

"There is no proof here that marijuana existed."

Faint cheers could be heard from the gallery, which was packed with Davis supporters.

During the trial, some of those supporters picketed across Court Street from the courthouse. Some of the protesters -- from the Washington-based pro-marijuana organization, the Green Panthers, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Davis-founded Americans Against Marijuana Prohibition -- carried banners demanding Davis' release from jail.

Davis has been a folk hero of sorts since her arrest last year in the so-called "UPS case." Acting on a tip from a sheriff's deputy in Orange County, Calif., the drug task force intercepted a United Parcel Service package addressed to Terrapin Station, Davis' 80-acre farm near the Pennsylvania line. The package contained 1.5 ounces of marijuana.

A Carroll sheriff's deputy, dressed as a UPS employee, delivered the package May 7, 1992. After a woman signed for the delivery, the task force raided the 21-room farmhouse.

Officers recovered no more than a leaf or two from the package; Davis' son, Kif, had run to the roof and eaten most of its contents. He pleaded guilty to marijuana possession earlier this year.

But the officers seized just under 1 ounce of marijuana from Davis' bedroom night stand; a water pipe; an indoor plant grow-light; and pro-marijuana magazines, pamphlets and posters.

In March, a Carroll jury convicted her of maintaining a common nuisance, a felony; possession of marijuana; and possession of drug paraphernalia.

"This is an unbelievably absurd trial," said Eric E. Sterling, president of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a Washington-based organization pushing for the reform of the country's drug laws. "This is a naked, political prosecution."

Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, the task force coordinator and Davis prosecutor, argued that she distributed the marijuana seeds in an effort to spread her pro-marijuana beliefs and encourage people to grow their own.

"This defendant knew exactly what she was doing," the prosecutor said in closing arguments. "She was furthering her cause for the legalization of marijuana."

As evidence of that, Mr. Walker pointed to pro-marijuana literature -- including High Times magazine and books about how to grow marijuana properly -- that Davis sold in her store.

"It doesn't make sense to sell all these books on how to grow marijuana without actually giving people the seeds to do it with," Mr. Walker said.

After the verdict, Mr. Walker quickly left the courthouse through a back door. He later declined to comment on the acquittal.

Davis' Westminster attorneys -- Judith S. Stainbrook and Stephen P. Bourexis -- basked in the glow of a rare courtroom victory in a drug case brought to trial in Carroll County.

"I am so relieved and, of course, we're pleased with the verdict," Ms. Stainbrook said. "But I'm still extremely concerned that this appears to be a prosecution based on someone's reading matter. I was horrified by this case, simply because it shows that people in Carroll County can be prosecuted for books they have in their store or in their house."

Davis, who testified yesterday, said she was innocent and that she believed the seeds she was selling were sterile.

The president of Ohio Hempery -- the company from which Davis bought the 50-pound sack of seeds -- testified that he does not sell unsterilized seeds.

Davis has appealed her March conviction to the Court of Special Appeals. She also has requested a sentence-modification hearing before a three-judge panel.

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