Yesterday morning, Bruce Olson was acquitted of all charges against him. I’ve been following his case (and his wife’s case) for almost a year, and seeing a jury rule in his favor was extremely satisfying. I’ve never met Bruce personally, but I know several people who have, and each of them were certain of his innocence. Yesterday’s verdict makes it abundantly clear that there were no hidden surprises about what he was doing. Bruce and Pamela Olson were the couple that everyone knew them to be, law abiding citizens growing plants that both of them (and their doctor) had discovered to have medicinal value.
When the Olsons were raided back in 2007, the WestNET drug task force initially threw poisoned meat into their yard, presumably to ensure that their dogs wouldn’t be a hindrance to their invasion. Their two puppies required roughly $2000 in vet bills. At the time of the invasion, the Olsons had no plants that were harvestable (it was their first attempt at growing), yet they were being threatened by Kitsap County prosecutors with very serious drug distribution charges. In the effort to fight these bogus charges, they wound up having to sell their home and move into an RV.
The Kitsap County Prosecutor’s motivations in this case remain largely a mystery. There hasn’t been any information provided about their one “witness,” a longtime drug user named Steven Kenney, who was flown up from Oklahoma for the trial and whose story was clearly not believed by jurors. Where did he actually come from? Did he stand to gain anything from his testimony? The prosecutor explained his discredited testimony by saying that he was “nervous.” Hell, I’d be nervous too if I were perjuring myself.
Considering how Pamela Olson’s case unfolded, there should be even more concern about the behavior of Russ Hauge and the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office. Pamela was threatened with jail time if she didn’t take a plea bargain. She feared having to go to prison, so she took the deal, even though the verdict this week makes it clear that she was innocent all along (both Bruce and Pamela were tried separately for the same offense stemming from the same raid). Now she has a criminal record and is still unable to use medical marijuana according to the State Department of Corrections’ policy for those on probation. And since this trial has started getting attention, we’ve been learning of even more Kitsap County patients who have ended up in the same boat.
As I’ve written about in the past, this kind of heavy-handed behavior from prosecutors and drug task forces is not that uncommon, although some of the more alarming incidents we’ve seen across the country have generally involved a racial component. A new movie coming out soon called American Violet is based on the story of Regina Kelly, a black woman arrested along with 28 others in Hearne, Texas. Most, if not all, of those arrested were innocent, but many of them took plea deals to get reduced sentences. Kelly didn’t, and was ultimately successful in exposing the corruption.
What’s happening in Kitsap County right now isn’t quite that pernicious, but Hauge is using the same kinds of scare tactics in order to force plea deals that keep the people he’s targeting out of the courtroom – where a jury might discover that they don’t belong there. One of those people, a quadriplegic named Glenn Musgrove, is scheduled to be wheeled into a courtroom in Port Orchard on Friday.
For a while now, activists and patients within the medical marijuana community have been referring to Kitsap County as “Kidnap County.” Now we have a better idea why. The state’s medical marijuana laws are not being honored by the Prosecutor’s office. Patients who try to grow their own plants have been arrested, presumed to be drug dealers, and forced to prove otherwise to a jury – often at great personal expense. This is not how the law is supposed to work, and I hope that Kitsap County residents remember that the next time they vote for their county prosecutor.
Finally, it’s important to look at the actions of the WestNET drug task force. These sorts of drug task forces exist on the premise that rural areas don’t have the resources to adequately enforce drug laws. Unfortunately, these drug task forces tend to be very common places for overzealous policing and outright corruption. Even worse, the Obama Administration has decided to increase funding for these units in the stimulus bill.
Why the WestNET drug task force is being used to bust medical marijuana patients (and finds nothing wrong with poisoning their dogs) rather than trying to go after real criminals is a question that they – and Prosecutor Hauge – need to answer.