MEDICAL MARIJUANA USER WINS CASE AGAINST CITY OF MERCED 8/15/07|Merced Sun-Star|by Victor A. Patton California ------- Small Claims Judge Orders City To Pay Man $1,700 For Pain And Suffering Samuel Matthews got high Tuesday ? but it wasn't from marijuana. Judge Armando Rodriguez awarded Matthews, a medical marijuana user, $1,700 for pain and suffering stemming from an October 2006 incident when he was cited by Merced police for possessing $300 in marijuana. Although the 25-year-old Merced College student was originally seeking $7,500 in damages, he said the small claims court decision was not about the money. "It's about their illegal actions," Matthews said. "( The judge ) showed that regardless of the federal standpoint on medical marijuana, the police are required to follow state law." Local medical marijuana activists said Monday's decision marked a victory that will hopefully set a precedent for protecting their rights. Medical marijuana user Grant Wilson said police will now hopefully "think twice" before citing anyone for using medical marijuana. "I'm happy for him," Wilson said. "I think he should have gotten the whole $7,500 just for the whole blatant disrespect of the law." Merced Chief Deputy City Attorney Jeanne Schechter declined to comment on the court decision, saying her office needs to review the case before deciding on whether to appeal. "We need to evaluate whether we believe the decision is appropriate," she said. Matthews was detained and cited by Merced police after he had been smoking marijuana inside the garage of his parents' Loughborough Drive home. He has used medical marijuana since 2001 to treat scoliosis in his back and pain from his right leg being about an inch-and-a-half longer than his left. A bike patrol officer at the scene thought he smelled marijuana on Matthews, who admitted having the drug with him, as well as his Alameda County marijuana card. Matthews was then handcuffed, taken to the police department, interviewed and cited for possessing $300 in marijuana. Police also confiscated 26.5 grams of marijuana that belonged to him. As a medical marijuana user, Matthews claimed his rights were denied under Proposition 215, a 1996 state voter-approved measure which made it legal for residents with a state identification card ( which is administered by counties ) to possess and cultivate medical marijuana within certain guidelines. Under Proposition 215 there is no state regulation for the cultivation of medical marijuana; the number of plants a patient can own is left up to local jurisdictions. In Merced County, a patient with a medical marijuana card ( which costs $225 ) is allowed to own six mature plants and 12 immature plants, in addition to a half-pound of finished product. However, Proposition 215 still conflicts with federal law, which does not allow for the use of medical marijuana. Merced County initially challenged the law in court ? only to have its challenge rejected by a state judge in December. Merced police Cmdr. Tom Martin said he disagrees with Matthews' contention that Merced police acted outside the boundaries of the law. "At the time this happened, there was not a countywide ( marijuana ) policy in place, but it was being researched," Martin said. "Not as a result of this, but as a result of our efforts in law enforcement, particularly our agency, to make sure that we are treating people fairly and complying with the law, because there is that significant conflict." Martin also disputes Matthews' claim that Merced police unfairly target medical marijuana users. The county's recent policy changes have given law enforcement clearer guidelines that previously did not exist. "We were trying to enforce the law as it was written and we found that it was ineffective," he said. "We agreed changes needed to be made. As a result, that's where we are at today." Despite the decision, Matthews still faces more days ahead in court. A judge is scheduled to decide this Friday about whether to return Matthews' confiscated marijuana. Schecther said his marijuana has not been destroyed. Matthews said he will use the $1,700 from his judgment to help pay for his $25,000 civil lawsuit against the Merced Police Department for the October 2006 incident. Even though Matthews said his seized marijuana has probably lost much of its potency during the past 10 months it's been stored in a police locker, he said it would be a "double whammy" if the court returned it to him. And he definitely wants his pot back: "I'll probably use it to cook or make some brownies."