Laguna man pleads innocent to marijuana charges

October 18, 2002

Mary A. Castillo

When Ross Embry, 53, pleaded innocent to two felony counts of

cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana, he also declared a

fight for the medicinal use of marijuana.

"I've been HIV positive since 1980," he said. "Through thick and

thin I've fought the fight. I'm a fighter and a survivor."

Seven years ago Embry's life hung in the balance when his weight


dropped and his T-cell count stood at 18, indicating that he had a

nearly non-existent immune system. As his energy dwindled, Embry

promised that if he returned to health, he would use that second

chance to give back.

Embry feels that the chance to fulfill the promise he made arrived

at 7:50 p.m., Sept. 17 when Laguna Beach police officers knocked on

his apartment in Hagan Place, a low-income residence for individuals

living with HIV and AIDS.

Narcotics officers had just received an anonymous tip that someone

was growing a lot of pot that could be easily seen by anyone, Sgt.

Jason Kravetz said.

When Embry opened his door that evening, he remembered the hairs

on the back of his neck standing on end. For 15 seconds he froze, but

then realized this was the chance he had been waiting for.

"At first I was like, what is this," he said. "Then I realized

this is spirit using me to fight the fight."

Police discovered 12 marijuana plants Embry had growing on his

patio that faced the inner courtyard of the building as well as an

estimated 4 to 6 pounds of dried herb.

"He was very open with the officers and admitted to growing it and

giving it to his friends," Kravetz said. "He was very cooperative

going through the entire contact."

Embry said he shared marijuana with 15 people suffering through

the same kind of pain and nausea he endures. He claims marijuana is

the only remedy to the side effects caused by HIV and AIDS


"Pharmaceuticals don't do the job that marijuana does," he said.

"That's why I grew it."

After his arraignment on Wednesday, Embry will return for a

preliminary hearing on Oct. 30. But he realizes that he may stand to

walk a long legal path.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which makes

provisions for seriously ill patients to have the right to obtain and

use marijuana for medical purposes upon a recommendation from their

physician. The law, as it falls under the California Health and

Safety Code 11362, specifies that patients who have a written or oral

recommendation or approval from a physician to use marijuana are

protected from laws against the possession and cultivation of


However, when police searched Embry's apartment they said they did

not find sufficient evidence that he had a doctor's recommendation or

approval to use marijuana.

Embry said that he hopes his case will illustrate what he calls

"draconian, flawed laws" and point out that the state legislature has

not met the will of the people and that it has been remiss in

implementing a plan that will enable safe and affordable distribution

to all patients in medical need.

"We need to be vigilant right here in our town to guarantee our

freedom and way of life," he said. "I feel as if I'm a vehicle for


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