Steele Smith is the central figure in what could be the most significant Federal Marijuana case in US history, the first allowing a medical defense based on State law.
A Medical Marijuana patient and his wife face ten years in Federal prison in a fight to uphold the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, States’ rights allowing safe, legal access to medical marijuana.
The story of a patient diagnosed with a rare disease, embroiled in a fight for his life and the rights of medical marijuana patients nationwide.
The following is a timeline of events that led to Orange County residents Steele and Theresa Smith’s battle with the federal government over medical marijuana.
Steele Smith – husband, entrepreneur and owner of an Orange County marketing company for 14 years — suddenly doubles over with excruciating pain and finds himself in an emergency room. It’s his first of several such visits over the next four months. Each time, emergency room doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong, so they prescribe him pain meds. Steele loses 40 pounds. Finally, a rare-diseases doctor orders an invasive scope that finds 11 ulcers in Steele’s duodenum – between the stomach and upper intestines.
The disease is called Zollinger-Ellison (Z-E) – it’s so rare that the doctor, who’d practiced for over 50 years – shakes Mr. Smith’s hand and says he’s the doctor’s first patient ever to have the condition. Steele is prescribed high levels of the newest and strongest acid-reducer known as Protonix. Due to the gut-wrenching pain, the doctor further prescribes high doses of morphine and sends him to a ‘pain’ doctor for a follow-up morphine regimen.
Steele and his wife, Theresa, begin to realize that Steele has become terribly addicted to morphine. Following research on the internet and many phone calls, the couple decides to rapid-detox Steele, a procedure that nearly kills him. He spends several days in ICU, while most patients walk out of the hospital after a day or two – not in ICU. As it turns out, he isn’t completely detoxed due to the high levels of opiates he had been ingesting – the rapid- detox failed to work. Over the next year and a half, the couple tries over and over to detox Steele on their own, but it doesn’t work. The Smiths search the Internet and discovered a new detoxification drug known as Suboxone. With the help of a certified physician, Steele begins to use Suboxone and over several weeks of this specialized drug therapy became drug-free.
Steele is still experiencing pain and nausea and, therefore, cannot function completely – nor can he eat. About his time, the couple begin to gather information about Proposition 215, Senate Bill 420 and Health & Safety Code 11362.5 – the state’s Medical Marijuana Program. Steele is given a medical-cannabis recommendation and then obtained his medicine from one of the many L.A. dispensaries. This was a second miracle drug for Steele: Medical marijuana took away his pain and nausea, enabled him to eat and to become healthy once again.
No dispensaries exist in Orange County at this time, so over the next few months and several visits to L.A. dispensaries, Steele and Theresa decide to open a small collective, California Compassionate Caregivers (C3), to assist patients. They open their home to local medical- cannabis patients and begin to grow cannabis for safe access. The next few months pass in a whirlwind as, over the next few months, OC patients seeking safe access find C3 — the patient base reaches over 1,000 by 2006.
Also at this time, officers with the Placentia Police Department stumble upon Steele and Theresa’s apartment and seize 18 plants, patient records, 4 pounds of medical marijuana, a small amount of concentrate and $1,000 in cash — no charges are filed at that time. Steele tries on several occasions to contact the Placentia officers that had seized C3′s property, however they refused to return anything. He then retains Bill Paoli of Wentworth, Paoli and Purdy in Newport Beach, an attorney and the two decided that they will file a lawsuit against the City of Placentia to return to him all that was confiscated and violation of Civil Rights. This civil suit is before Judge Shiela Fell in the OC Superior Court. It was filed at the same time the now famous Felix Kha case against the City of Garden Grove was filed where the City lost nearly a million dollars. The Placentia City Attorney, Tom Nixon of Woodruff, Spradlin and Sprague is unhappy with the lawsuit filed and in an effort to avoid future litigation and real possibility of significant loss, so elevate the case to a federal level. Tom Nixon illegally contacts the US DEA and notifies them of state legal cultivation and asks for their support in the form of a raid and subsequent Federal indictment. Tom Nixons goal was to have the Placentia Civil suit dismissed with prejudice thus causing Steele’s standing in Civil Court to be removed, such that the matter would cease to be his problem… Temporarily. However, now that Steeles standing in the Civil Court is about to be replaced and whole again; This Civil lawsuit against the City of Placentia is again, very relevant to the issue of States Rights. Opening arguments in the Court of Judge Shiela Fell in OC Superior are about to begin, again, by December 2011.
At approximately 6 a.m., federal agents raid the Smith’s two homes using paramilitary-style tactics – several officers wearing masks and dressed from head to toe in black break down the front door and hold the couple (who moments earlier were asleep in their bed) at gunpoint. A fire extinguisher is sprayed at their two dogs — one dog dies four days later. The officers then begin to destroy the home while they look for guns, drugs, or anything else that could incriminate the Smiths. The couples’ home is completely ransacked and the front door broken down left wide open for any and all of the public to take furniture and belongings at will. At the same time, the police go to C3′s medical dispensary located a few miles away and proceed to confiscate 2 pounds of medical marijuana and a small amount of concentrate – again, leaving this door open to the public to take anything left.
Steele, Theresa and two other defendants, from the second grow-house; Alex Valentine, a 21 year old patient with Elephant-man’s syndrome and thirty surgeries by his twentieth birthday, and Dennis La Londe, a friend of a friend and homeless man that was given a bed only three weeks prior, would be incarcerated and spend most of the next year in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles – a maximum security, level-five Federal prison. The four defendants were charged with conspiracy to manufacture or grow medical marijuana and are facing ten years each in a Federal Penitentiary for said “crime”.
Theresa is released after 60 days on $200,000 bond – her dying mother’s home and two signatures, while all three of the other defendants languished in federal prison for nearly a year. After 10 months, Steele is finally released back to his wife, an electronic ankle bracelet attached to him for the next year. All four defendants currently report to federal pre-trial services officers regularly until trial.
The Honorable Cormac J. Carney, who presides over this case, rules that the medical marijuana issue will be heard as testimony – the first time in a federal court in U.S. history. The case has been continued over a dozen times