Member of Yuba County medical marijuana collective acquitted on felony drug charges
A member of a Yuba County medical marijuana collective was acquitted on three felony drug charges, according to court records.
A jury found Eric L. Salerno not guilty on one count, and Yuba County Superior Court Judge Julia Scrogin threw out two others.
Salerno and another man were arrested in April 2011 as they tried to consummate a pot sale in a fast-food restaurant parking lot in Marysville. Then-Police Chief Wally Fullerton was one of the arresting officers.
“The significance of this case is it’s really important for people to have safe access (to medical marijuana),” said Salerno’s Los Angeles attorney, Michael Levinsohn. “People need to be able to get medical cannabis in a safe environment, so they don’t have to be forced to do it in ways they are subjected to arrest.”
He said the case’s outcome created “quite a bit of buzz for a few days” in the medical marijuana community.
But District Attorney Pat McGrath said the Salerno prosecution “was a fairly straightforward marijuana case, except, of course, for the intricacies of the Medical Marijuana Act.”
McGrath acknowledged that “despite rather heated passions that some advocates for medical marijuana have, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about this case.”
Salerno and Stephen Devezin, a Southern California medical marijuana patient, were arrested as they stood behind a black SUV negotiating the transaction. Salerno was going to sell 13⁄4 pounds of pot to Devezin for about $3,000.
Salerno is a member of the Organic Roots Collective in Browns Valley, according to court papers filed by Levinsohn. Devezin intended to join the collective.
Devezin was charged with a felony drug count but pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, court records said.
At a 2012 preliminary hearing, a Yuba County judge disallowed the medical marijuana defense. It was reinstated by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.
At last week’s trial, Scrogin dismissed felony charges of marijuana sales and attempted sales against Salerno. A jury returned a not-guilty verdict on the remaining count, Levinsohn said.
“I do know that the DA’s office in Yuba County was very kind of hot for (Salerno),” Levinsohn said. “They wanted to make an example out of him. They told me that. They wanted to make him an example of how not to behave. They don’t approve of sale of medical cannabis in their county. They were going to make him Exhibit A.”
According to McGrath, “I don’t think Mr. Salerno was treated differently than others.”
He said police found about $4,600 in cash at the scene, “so the fact he was prosecuted for a felony was warranted under those facts.”
McGrath said the Legislature should provide guidance on how these cases should be handled.
“If we had some overall guidelines, then I think all of us, whether in law enforcement or somebody who is working in a collective or an individual user, I think all of us would feel a little better in terms of our relationship with each other,” he said.