Correction: This story originally listed the amount of usable marijuana listed on the waiver as 24 pounds. Dr. Goldsmith says it actually reads 2 to 4 pounds.
A medical marijuana patient was treated like a criminal, until he fought the law and won. Police say Stephen Ficano was preparing to sell drugs. He faced two felony drug charges and up to 10 years in prison, until a jury found him not guilty.
“I never sold anything to anybody, wouldn’t even think of it,” he said.
Police say they found 67 marijuana plants, approximately 24 pounds of marijuana, 26 guns and nearly $52,000 in cash.
“I’d be the first to admit I had a lot of marijuana, yes,” he said. “It takes a lot to make the medications.”
The 65-year-old man is a medical marijuana patient. He says he has back problems and arthritis and has struggled with addiction to painkillers. Since he doesn’t want to smoke marijuana, he uses the plant to make butter for edibles.
“Hopefully, it’s going to last me until next year, and until I can plant again,” he said.
Police knocked on Ficano’s door in October 2012 after watching him grow marijuana openly in his backyard.
He let them in. They searched the place, took his drugs, money and guns and arrested him.
He says most of the guns were handed down from his father. He kept cash at home after the economy tanked, and he had a doctor’s note for the large quantity of drugs.
“Their response was, ‘Sorry Steve, the state says seven plants. Waiver doesn’t mean anything,’” he said.
As his arrest report states, at that time, medical marijuana patients in Nevada were legally allowed to have up to seven plants and one ounce of finished marijuana.
Dr. Ivan Goldsmith gave Ficano the waiver stating, for Ficano’s condition, he needed a larger quantity of the drug: up to 21 plants per growing cycle and 2 to 4 pounds of usable marijuana based on a three-month harvest cycle.
“Never in my wildest imagination could I conceive that they would take a 65-year-old guy and drag him through this legal nightmare,” Dr. Goldsmith said. “I have to make a snap judgment on these patients, but I would say 99 percent of the people I’ve given either a waiver or recommendation to, they’re not in the business or intent to sell.”
“You’re technically in this gray area. Whether or not the waiver holds any weight, it’s the physician’s word against the government’s word,” he said.
Goldsmith says the law prevents him from giving medical marijuana patients like Ficano more advice.
“My job is to be the dumb doctor sitting there making the recommendation,” he said.
The Clark County District Attorney said in a statement, “A medical waiver does not absolutely relieve a medical marijuana card holder from legal responsibility. It is not an absolute defense.”
Goldsmith says he hasn’t stopped giving waivers to patients.
About two a half years after Ficano’s arrest, a jury found him not guilty.
“It was very emotional,” he said.
He says he is still growing medical marijuana, but he’s sticking to the current legal limit of 12 plants.
“They wanted to crucify me for what I did, because I tried to help myself in a different way,” he said.
The Clark County District Attorney said in a statement about the case:
“The District Attorney’s Office is tasked with prosecuting those people we believe violate the law. With regard to the Ficano case, we believe Mr. Ficano violated the law and we filed charges accordingly. Although we respect the jury’s verdict, we disagree with it.
At the same time, however, we are sensitive to the changing times here in Las Vegas, and in many parts of the country. We are continuing to review our policies in this regard.
Recognizing that many people suffer from legitimate ailments and receive legitimate medical marijuana certificates from legitimate physicians, there are still those that are abusing these processes and, in some cases, violating criminal laws.
It is the responsibility of the police and the prosecutors to exercise reasonable discretion as to whom we prosecute and for what.
My advice to those who choose to legally obtain a medical marijuana card is to be aware of the applicable laws as it relates to their behavior. Law enforcement is available to answer questions by those who wish to legally possess marijuana and who need to better understand the law and their legal responsibilities.”
Stephen Ficano received his money back, but his attorney says police still have his guns. 8 News NOW will look into this and the issue of police seizing property Wednesday at 11 p.m.