Jury acquits medical marijuana patient of felony charges

Jury acquits medical marijuana patient of felony charges

Prosecutor Lindsey Moors speaks during opening statements for the trial of Steven Ficano at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 27, 2014. Ficano, who has a medical marijuana license, faces felony marijuana charges for possession and intent to sell. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Follow Chase Stevens on Twitter @csstevensphoto

Steven Ficano wept as the clerk read the verdict: not guilty on both counts.

He embraced his lawyers, who had tears in their eyes. A few members of the jury cried, too.

For almost three years Ficano has faced two felony counts, one of which could have sent him to prison for up to 10 years.

With red eyes, the 65-year-old Las Vegas man and his wife hugged and thanked each of the 12 Clark County jurors as they left the courtroom at the conclusion of his four-day trial.

The jurors took about an hour to acquit Ficano on charges of possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell.

Prosecutors had argued that Ficano kept far more than he was legally allowed at his northwest valley residence and that he planned to sell the pot.

But Ficano’s lawyers, Dustin Marcello and Mike Miceli, brought in three of Ficano’s neighbors — a firefighter, a former police sergeant and a school district employee — who all said they did not believe he would sell the drug.

The defense noted that much has changed since charges were filed in October, 2012.

“We’re not used to treating it as a medicine,” Marcello said. “Well, those days are over.”

Since he was arrested, Nevada lawmakers have legalized pot dispensaries that would help prevent a situation like the one Ficano found himself in.

Euphoria Wellness, the state’s first medical marijuana store, is expected to open soon at 7780 S. Jones Blvd., less than 12 miles away from where jurors decided Ficano’s fate.

“Life is always about timing,” Marcello said. “If these police officers would have come three years later, he might have been able to go somewhere else to purchase it and not have to deal with this.”

In 2012 medical use of marijuana was allowed, but those licensed to use it were required to grow their own at home. So when detectives knocked on Ficano’s door he let them in. He had a medical marijuana license and a note from his doctor that said he could possess more than the legal limit of 2.5 ounces of marijuana and not more than 12 plants.

Defense lawyers argued that the doctor’s waiver did not clearly state how much pot Ficano could possess, and he was never given instructions on how to grow the plant and turn it into an edible product.

But in closing arguments, prosecutor Lindsey Moors lifted three cardboard boxes packed with marijuana that police confiscated from Ficano. She dropped each box, one-by-one, in front of the jury box.

Moors argued that several signs pointed to Ficano’s intent to sell pot. He had 68 plants, 24 pounds of finished marijuana, a digital scale, more than $51,000 in cash, 26 guns and “not a single pot baked-good located in his home.”

Moors said she was surprised by the verdict.

While authorities certainly will not give Ficano his pot back, it’s still unclear whether the state will return his guns and cash. There’s no law that says authorities must return property if someone is acquitted.

The guns were antique lever-action rifles, collectible pistol sets and historic muskets, Ficano’s lawyer said.

The money was cash Ficano had pulled out of his bank account during the recession. Some of the pot had been stored in jars so long that it had grown moldy. Most of the plants were either male or too immature to produce buds.

Ficano said his marijuana is used only for medicinal purposes, and he has not stopped growing pot since his arrest.

For 36 years, he ran a furniture repair business. He developed arthritis and has scoliosis. Ficano said he also used pot to alleviate pain from a recent car crash.

“It’s not about getting high,” he said after being acquitted. “It’s about treating my body.

Outside the courtroom, jurors said they focused on the doctor’s waiver, and said they didn’t think the document clearly defined how much pot Ficano could have at his home.

The waiver allowed him to possess 29 plants and 2 to 4 pounds of finished marijuana per three-month growing cycle. But Ficano said he only harvested marijuana once a year and assumed that he would be allowed to have up to 84 plants and 16 pounds of finished medicine.

Another juror, Donna Florence, said that after reaching the verdict she thought of her mother, who died of cancer about two years ago.

“If I could have gotten something for her that would have spared her that pain, I would have done anything,” she said. “And I think this guy was just in similar pain and trying to help himself.”

Contact reporter David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker

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