Jury returns not guilty verdict in MMJ case

LANCE BENZEL Updated: June 11, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: June 11, 2012

An El Paso County jury on Monday acquitted a corporate trainer turned-medical marijuana grower on drug cultivation charges, ending a weeklong trial that brought daily demonstrations by medical marijuana advocates.

Elisa Kappelmann, 52, embraced attorney Rob Corry of Denver after the jury's verdict was read in court. Her supporters rocked in their seats, shouted "thank you" to the departing jurors and in some cases wept.

The 11-woman, 1-man jury deliberated for about 6 hours over two days.

Kappelmann, who left her job at Hewlett Packard in Colorado Springs to open a medical marijuana dispensary, had faced up to 12 years in prison on two felonies in connection with a May 2010 raid on a Colorado Springs warehouse where she leased an 800-square-foot suite as a temporary grow house.

Police said Kappelmann and her business partner were growing 99 marijuana plants without necessary documentation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which maintains a medical marijuana registry. Authorities also seized just more than a pound of dried marijuana and some marijuana cigarettes.

Her defense argued that Kappelmann had physicians' recommendations and caregiver forms for each of her 22 patients and was within her plant count even under the strictest interpretations of the laws. Under Colorado's medical marijuana amendment, growers are generally limited to six plants per patient, though the law recognizes that greater amounts are allowed if "medically necessary."

During the trial, Corry scoffed that police used a $7 million Department of Homeland Security surveillance plane to check the building's heat signatures when the suite was registered as Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana LLC with both the Department of Revenue and the city of Colorado Springs.

Police had also documented soaring electricity and saw marijuana plants inside before requesting use of the Great Falls, Mont.-based plane, which had been on loan in Denver at the time.

Speaking with reporters after the verdict, Corry called the trial a failed "political test case" and urged the District Attorney's Office to revisit its interpretation of medical marijuana laws.

"At the conclusion of all this, we're still wondering why the government spent taxpayer dollars on this case," he said, saying that courtrooms in El Paso County are "jampacked" with what he characterized as more pressing business.

Lead prosecutor Corey O'Neal said: "It's a hard case, and from where we stood, the defendant was not complying with the marijuana laws."

O'Neal, with other court hearings to attend to Monday, referred further questions to District Attorney Dan May, who couldn't be reached.

Kappelmann's supporters, who waved signs and shouted pro-marijuana slogans outside the courthouse each morning of the trial, said the jury's verdict was a vindication of claims Kappelmann was treated harshly by Colorado Springs police and the District Attorney's Office.

"The jury obviously didn't believe that she broke any laws, because she didn't break any laws," said Audrey Hatfield of Coloradans for Cannabis Patient Rights, or C4CPR, which helped organize the morning demonstrations. "This whole trial has obviously been a huge waste of taxpayer dollars."

Said Jason Warf of Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council: "I think it was justice served. But at the same time, it's money that could have been spent on real crime."

Kappelmann's business partner and boyfriend of 14 years, Don McKay, kept the business going during her prosecution and said the dispensary currently serves "hundreds" of patients.

"I've got some work to do," said Elisa Kappelmann, pledging to rejoin the business.

At least six other marijuana growers were also arrested in the raid that led to charges against Kappelmann. Those defendants – who worked for other marijuana businesses – all took plea agreements, court records show.

For background on the case, click here.

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