Ramona couple with chronic illnesses faces felony charges for growing pot

By Karen Brainard

When narcotics agents conducting aerial surveys spotted a plot of marijuana plants in the back of Dennis and Deborah Little’s rural Ramona property on the east side of town, the couple noticed the helicopter but never expected to be facing felony charges, said one of their attorneys.

“They were absolutely sure they were legal,” said Attorney Charlotte Kornev. “They did not expect to have a SWAT raid at 5:30 in the morning.”

The Littles each suffer from chronic illnesses­. Dennis, 64, has neuropathy, a nerve disorder, and Deborah, 59, is a cancer patient who has also been treated for AIDS for 20 years. Kornev said both of them have doctor’s recommendations that allow them under state law to use marijuana. Kornev said authorities did not check if the Littles had the physician recommendations before executing a search warrant.

The Littles will be in Superior Court in Vista on Thursday, March 28, for a preliminary hearing on two felony charges: cultivation of marijuana and possession with intent to sell.

The Littles said they grew it for their medical use, after researching state law, and did not sell it.

Kornev sees a conflict between federal and state laws. Growing marijuana is illegal federally, but under state law medical marijuana users can possess the amount reasonably necessary to fit the needs.

The agents spotted the plants in September 2012. A month later agents returned with a search warrant and drew guns on Deborah when she walked out of the house, said Kornev, who called the warrant “fishy.”

Kornev said there were 25 marijuana plants in the backyard but law enforcement claimed there were 100 plants when seeking to obtain a search warrant.

According to the attorney, agents confiscated 25 plants, 25 branches, and about 30 Mason jars and 30 bags containing marijuana. Her rough estimate is that there was a total of 60 pounds of marijuana, but prosecutors said they obtained 640 pounds.

“They found no cash, no records of sale,” said Kornev. “There’s so many incredible issues here that I’m speechless.”

Deputy District Attorney George Loyd said he could not discuss the case pending the hearing, but said it is about facts and “they see the facts differently.”

The Littles formerly had medical marijuana cards and purchased from dispensaries, said Kornev, but that became too expensive. Kornev said the Littles do not smoke the marijuana but ingest it, which requires a larger amount.

Kornev said the ordeal has been exhausting and stressful for the Littles, and Deborah has lost about 20 pounds.

They declined to speak to the Sentinel but relayed their statements through Kornev, who said, “This has been absolutely devastating to them. They have lived on their property for 20 years and all they really wanted was to live in peace and privacy. This has just destroyed their feeling of security.”

Kornev added that she will be filing a civil suit on their behalf. She is representing Deborah; Attorney Lance Rogers is representing Dennis. If convicted, the couple could face up to three years in prison.

   
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