My Medical Marijuana Activism Story
by Susan Soares
April 6, 2014
I was a leader in the Mormon Church and a single mother of three when I found medical marijuana. It saved my life. I had been suffering from an injury related migraine that lasted most of two years. I was a closet activist for a few years until my children grew up. I’ve been public and very active for at least 6 years. I was arrested twice for cannabis cultivation. The second time was personal. It’s clear I ran into a cop that hated marijuana. What I didn’t know was how much.
How it began.
I knew Detective Carlborg was coming back for me. He was at the first raid where a family squabble turned into an unexpected call to the cops and my first arrest. I felt it deep within my soul, kind of like when an earthquake hits and you know it's going to be a big one. You don't know why you know. You just do. I was in court for the forth time, I think. I was arrested in 2010 and was still in shock since I never dreamed it would happen to me. My attorney, Walter was filing the motion to continue. He went out into the hall to talk to one of the DA's. I was sitting 2 rows behind the DA’s. The one that seemed to be in charge was sitting down directly in front of me. She was about 100 pounds over weight. I mention that because it seemed to be a thing between her and the cop that was there to testify against me. His attitude toward her seemed hostile from the beginning. He was a white, tall, roid head. The cop, his name was Detective Carlborg, was sitting there restlessly waiting for what he assumed would be his win against me. The DA called him over to her. I could hear almost everything they were saying. She told him our motion to continue was going to be granted, which means we were getting more time to prove our case and then she told him that she wasn’t going to need him back on this case. His face went completely red and I could tell he was furious.
He asked, 'Why not? She had more than 100 plants!"
The DA casually flipped through my paperwork which clearly stated that I had my medical marijuana permitting in order, looked up at him and said "So what?" He stormed out of the room. I knew then that he was coming back for me--this is not a guy that likes to lose.
Flash forward three weeks.
I had just hosted a successful two day conference on cannabis legalization in Berkeley, California in January. The cannabis legalization bill Prop. 19 had just failed and I wanted to make sure that we got something on the state's ballot for 2012. I worked 12 hours a day for the next six weeks to pull it off, so my medical cannabis garden got only minimal care most of that time. The crop was ready to harvest but I hadn’t found the time to do it.
It was Tuesday morning, March 22, 2011. I needed to go to the DMV to take care of a fix it ticket that was due that day. I thought about taking my dog Ziggy with me but unfortunately I didn't. I was almost home when I saw the 4 black Cadillac Escalades and a police car in my driveway. My heart started to race. I drove slowly past the house. There were very large men carrying out large black plastic bags. There went my marijuana garden. I started shaking uncontrollably. I drove around the corner and pulled over to call Walter, my attorney.
When I got to Walter's office we decided that it would be best for me to get out of dodge and wait to see how things shook out. All I could think about was how Detective Carlborg must have treated my dog Ziggy. He was in his cute little Teddy bear sweater. What would he do to him? I couldn't leave without Ziggy!
My friends, Y and S got me a hotel room by Walter's office. They drove me to the house after it got dark. I only went in for a few seconds but I saw that they had cut down all my plants and trashed the house. My roommate was gone and so was Ziggy. I didn't sleep that night.
The next day I drove to my friend's house in the San Fernando Valley. I found out that the cops had arrested my roommate and taken Ziggy. Eventually my roommate was released. Ziggy was in the pound.
Now I had to decide when to turn myself in again. We decided on the following Monday because we didn't want to risk me being held over extra time because of the weekend. By this time, I had heard from my landlord that Carlborg had tried to intimidate him into kicking me out of the house. My landlord was pissed and left me a message that if I needed money for a lawsuit or needed him to testify, he was there to support me. He said that Detective Carlborg was the biggest dick he had ever talked to. What a cool landlord! I also heard from my doctor that gave me my medical cannabis recommendation. He said that Carlborg had given him a hard time about my recommendation and gave him the third degree.
My roommate decided to move out. Two raids were one too many for Brian and the cops told him that if I would have turned myself in they wouldn’t have had to arrest him. I couldn’t blame him.
Carlborg had tried to use Ziggy to get me to turn myself in, and It was becoming more apparent that he had it in for me and was going to do everything in his power to harass me---even if it meant bending, if not breaking, the law. It was more than I could handle to have Ziggy away from me, so my friend S went to the pound and rescued him.
The next three days were unbelievably stressful. I called everyone that I knew to get advise. I talked to some of the smartest legal minds in the industry. It was becoming apparent that Carlborg couldn’t take no for an answer. He went to another court in a different city, failed to acknowledge the fact that he knew I was in possession of a valid State of California MMJ card, failed to acknowledge the other case and threw in an unsubstantiated claim that I was manufacturing and selling meth! We were all stunned. I also felt the stress of the community and felt guilty for making so many people worry about me but I also felt much support. When I became an activist, I never imagined that I would be turning to the community for support. I was a volunteer organizing conferences, chairing committees, and voter initiatives. I didn’t want to slow things down. That wasn’t my calling.
Monday the 28th, we drove to Redondo to turn myself in. My attorney met me at the police station and so did a journalist from MedicalMarijuana411.com. Walter and a bail bond lady that I had hired assured me that I'd be out in three to four hours. I had prepared myself for much more. I knew that Carlborg was bending the law and that he would do it again and again until he felt like he'd won. Five hours later, the jailer lady came to my cell to tell me that a special booking was just placed in my case and that I wouldn't be released until Wednesday. Shortly after that, Walter came to see me. He explained that Carlborg was being a super dick and that there was some sort of warrant where they can hold you without bail if they think you're some sort of mob boss that could bail out at any amount using drug money --which couldn’t have been further from the truth.
When I hired my attorney I made him promise that he wouldn’t let me take a plea deal. My cannabis activism is very important to me and I felt that no California jury would convict me.
They pulled me out of the cell and straight into the courtroom. Walter advised me that since they were threatening me with 7 felonies and had offered a generous plea deal that I should take it. He said that if I completed the DEJ program and stayed out of trouble for 18 months I would be able to say that I was never arrested. The Deferred Entry of Judgement program is designed to help with the over crowding of our jails. If you are a first time offender, you can qualify for the program so that your life isn’t totally ruined. I don’t even remember most of what happened in that courtroom. I was in shock. I plead no contest and was released a few hours later.
Order to Return is Awesome and Scary
After I spent some time healing I decided to fight to get my property back. The authorities took my computers, which were my primary mode of income, and refused to return them. Also as part of my Deferred Entry of Judgement the judge agreed that I was a legal medical marijuana patient so I wanted my medicine back too. This is a BIG decision because I know a few people personally that have gotten an Order to Return only to be greeted by the DEA when they got their medical marijuana back!
We filed a motion to have my property returned including the cannabis. The judge granted the motion and gave me an order to return to give to the cops. He warned me that even with the court order, the cops would give me a hard time about returning the pot. He was right.
I had been considering filing a complaint against Carlborg and I decided to do it then and there.
When I went to the Redondo Beach Police Station to get my property and file my complaint and was given the major run around. Finally I was told that they were refusing to give it back and that they would see me in court. We had a three day hearing. My attorney Walter was incompetent and extremely hungover or worse but the judge did everything he could do to help me. Things were looking good until the last day, when the judge pulled a complete 180. He mis-quoted the case law People v. Tippett. He said that since my medical cannabis recommendation didn’t have dosages and frequency of use on it all of my cannabis was illegal and he couldn’t give me back even the minimums required by state law back. My attorney asked for time to get the case law. The judge refused, and abruptly dismissed us.
Cop or Gangster?
A few weeks later I signed up for my DEJ classes. I had to go into court to check in and show where and when my classes were. That very week “someone” broke into my car. I had an expensive bottle of wine, a nice pair of jeans, and my briefcase full of legal documents on the passenger seat. The passenger window was broken and the briefcase was stolen. Nothing else was taken. I talked to the manager of the building. She told me that she had managed the building for over 8 years and there had never been an incident in that garage. No other vehicles were bothered that night. I was only in the class for 45 minutes.I believe Det. Carlborg was behind the break-in. I think he planted a GPS tracking devise on my car, and stole my briefcase.
Forced Marijuana Treatment
The DEJ program was interesting. Every Wednesday night for 18 weeks, I met with a health department leader and other unfortunate drug war casualties. The class would start off with roll call and paying a weekly fee. We would watch a video on addiction or the teacher would read some course work to us. Then he would give us some questions that we were required to answer. Most of them were things like, “How does your addiction affect your daily life”?
At first I quietly just didn’t answer most of the questions or I just wrote in, “I’m not addicted. I use cannabis as a medicine. It helps me control my migraines.” The teacher started singling me out by reading my answers, thinking that I would buckle from public shame.
It’s important to realize that the attendees in the Deferred Entry of Judgment classes were given a free pass from the court and they are scared of going to jail. Defendants who are offered a DEJ have no prior record or they have stayed out of trouble for over 5 years and have no violent crime history. A DEJ means that after you complete the program, you can say that you were never arrested. It’s a way to run a LOT of drug related cases quickly through the judicial system using fear. If you don’t make it through the program the court will order you to jail for what ever the sentence was without any hearing because you have already plead guilty. Typically the DA overcharges a defendant in order to entice a plea deal so that is a scary prospect.
But I didn’t buckle when I was presented with quiz after quiz that asked me to admit to addiction. I stood up for myself. Without cannabis, my life would again center around debilitating migraines, which honestly were driving me toward suicide.
After I started speaking up, I was approached by almost everyone in the class. They all had heartbreaking stories and also felt like they were being herded through a BS program, but you do what you have to do and so they answered the questions as if they believed they were addicted.
In the end, the instructor graduated me early to get rid of me and didn’t even pee test me because he knew it would come up positive for THC. He was aware of my court documents stating that I could not only smoke cannabis but grow it.
Run Out of Town
I became aware that I was being followed after the second raid. I could see black and whites following me all the time and undercover cars too. Some of my friends told me that I was being paranoid but I could feel it. The depression started to replace the shock. I could find no joy. I didn’t socialize except for activist functions. I was living off of donations and barely scraping by.
I had grown up a Mormon and was a leader in the church until I started using cannabis to treat a medical condition. I always thought that law enforcement was an institution set up to protect and serve us. I was doing everything legal according to state law and couldn’t understand why the cops had such a hard on for me. I didn’t have a dispensary. I only grew for myself and a few patients that truly were in need. I never sold cannabis. I never sold or took illegal drugs. Why were they spending so much time and money following me around? I decided that it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I became a prisoner in my own home…..going on 4 years now.
I finally decided that I could no longer live in Redondo Beach. It was a hard decision because it is really the only place I have thought of as home.
Illegal Search and Seizure, Sexual Harassment, Police Misconduct
I was on my way downtown LA to sign a lease for a loft. I was being very careful because I knew I was being watched so I was driving safely but with my eyes on all of my mirrors. I was on Rosecrans and about to get on the 405 freeway when out of nowhere I see lights flashing in my mirror. WTF? So I pulled into a hotel parking lot and got out my driver's license and registration. I was VERY scared. I rolled down my window. The officer said, "what's up with your registration? Why is it expired?" I told him that I was pretty sure that it wasn't and that I thought it expired in December. He went to the back of my car, came back and said "oh, yeah, there was something over it or something...........um no, that's not it...., you were changing lanes and not signaling. Yeah, that’s what it was". I told him that I didn't remember changing very many lanes and that I always use my signal so that seemed weird to me. He said "well, are your lights working? I mean maybe there's something wrong with your lights". I just did an "I don't know gesture" and kind of like "ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS. IT'S A 2009 MERC CONVERTIBLE JERK! OF COURSE MY LIGHTS ARE WORKING!!!" sort of look. (sounds bold but I was shaking the whole time and just was thinking that) I told him my lights were ok and that I'm sure I used them. Then he asked me if I was on probation. Bam. "Are you on probation". Hmmm. So I asked him if I knew him. He said “Yeah, you’re the marijuana chick.” I told him that I was in the process of pursuing a complaint against a detective in his department and had a claim against the city. I asked him if he participated in the raid on my home. He admitted that he did. He asked me what the status of my case was, what my probation status was, what I pleaded to and many other personal questions. Then he asked me if I had anything illegal in my car. I told him that I didn't. He asked me if I had any marijuana in my car. I told him that he knew that I was a mmj patient and that if I did, it would not be illegal. I said that I really didn't know if I did. I said that it would be unlikely that there was none but I wasn't sure. He asked me if he could search my car. About that time, another officer pulled up. He got out and witnessed everything. I told him that given that he knew I was searchable, I would have to let him search my car but I was afraid of him planting something on me. He laughed and said that if I let him search my car and there was nothing there, he would give me a warning and send me on my way. So I let him search my car. The other officer played with my dog, acted like MR. Friendly and asked me MANY very personal questions. At one point the officer that was searching my car found my halloween costume, held it up to himself and asked his colleague what he thought. They both got a big chuckle. He did an extensive search of my car. When he finished, he brought me a "warning" ticket and told me that it was no big deal. I wouldn't have to go to court. I wouldn't have to pay a fine. He had me sign it. He thanked me for "being cool". At that point his witness left. Then he started asking me about my children, my ex husband, if I was single, if I was dating. I said "look man, I have PTSD because of you guys. My life is ruined. I'm on my way to DTLA to find a tiny loft to live in so that I don't go bankrupt and so that I can get away from you guys. I have baggage. I'm not very dateable right now if you know what I mean." He said that I didn't have baggage and that I was very attractive and I should be dating. He started to get very flirty. He told me that he was getting ready to retire and live the good life. It got so weird and uncomfortable. I made it obvious that I wanted to leave. He told me “You’re a sexy package. If you want to have the good life, you need to hook up with me.” I asked him if I was free to go. He handed me the ticket and I left. I found out in his sworn statement that the reason he pulled me over was because he was instructed to by Det. Carlborg so that he could take the GPS tracking devise off my car. It’s interesting that it was about to become illegal to put a GPS tracking devise on someone’s car without a warrant in a few weeks.
Retaliation against political right to petition the government for redress of grievances
The complaint that I had filed was going nowhere. I was getting no response so I started calling Internal Affairs to see what was going on. The officer that was assigned to the case was Sgt. Weibel. He called me at least 12 times to talk me out of filing the complaint. The last time he told me the reason I didn’t want to file a complaint was that if I did my name would be on a list that anyone that ever had a run in with Carlborg would be able to see. They would be able to see my name, address and phone number. He told me that my name would be on that list for 5 years. He said that I would have to go to court all the time to testify and that it would be a big hassle in my life. I asked him if that many people were suing Det. Carlborg that would require that much courtroom time. He didn’t say anything. I said “Just 5 years? Can we make it 10? I will spend as much time as it takes to see this guy go down. I want to file the complaint!”
They have to give you a report within 12 months of their investigation. Just a month before it was due I got a call from Sgt. Weibel. He told me that he had been reassigned and that Sgt. Morina Morales was taking over. I found out that Sgt. Morales was in the Special Investigative Unit or SIU. She had been for over 20 years. According to Chief Leonardi “the SIU is a prestigious assignment for Redondo Beach officers.” She was there when Det. Carlborg was assigned to SIU. What kind of oversight is that?? I don’t think I need to tell you what her “investigation” results were. She was the SIU mamma bear coming to rescue her baby bear. What a sham!
According to the RBPD website this is information about the SIU:
What are the crimes typically assigned to the “Special Investigations Unit” in Redondo Beach?
Also from the City of Redondo Beach website within the police budget one of their action items is: Conduct surveillance of 15 known or suspected career criminals that are believed to be operating in Redondo Beach and/or adjacent cities. http://www.redondo.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=27164 Of all the crime, why would they choose me to surveil especially since my case was already adjudicated. Instead of investigating him, they were still investigating me. I think the evidence is clear that their investigation was to find dirt on me so that their misconduct wouldn’t be exposed.
Fighting City Hall
Long lonely days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and then years. I filed a lawsuit in State court but was persuaded by my new attorney that we needed to go to Federal Court to get a fair shot. We are in the process of discovery right now. The City of Redondo Beach has a big fancy law firm downtown LA. A Jr. Partner was taking the lead on the case and doing the depositions. After several weeks, she was fired because she wasn’t being aggressive enough according to her. She had been with the firm for 6 years. So far only they have deposed me and my witnesses. They won’t let us depose theirs. We have a lot of evidence of police misconduct. They have filed for a summary judgement which means that they don’t think we have enough evidence to even warrant a trial. I’m told this is standard operating procedure. That hearing is April 7th. If we are allowed to move forward the trial begins May 13, 2014 at the Federal Courthouse in Courtroom 16. They say you can’t fight City Hall but I say you have to try. I am lucky enough to have supporters that give me the resources to do it. City Hall is broken. The only way to fix it is to get rid of the bad players.
Susan Soares has written for Cannabis Now Magazine, Alternet, and Sensi Magazine.