January 20th, 2016 (ICR News) The Criminal Court of Alajuela on Tuesday acquitted 57-year-old attorney Mario Alberto Cerdas Salazar, who was facing 24 years in prison after the man had been arrested multiple times for growing marijuana on the roof of his home located across the street and just 25 meters from the courthouse where he stood trial.
In a two-to-one decision by a three-judge panel, the court ruled that Cerdas should be acquitted because there was insufficient evidence that the man intended to sell the marijuana after Cerdas’ defense team successfully argued that Article 58 of the Narcotics Law only penalizes the possession of drugs for sale or distribution, not personal consumption.
Defense attorneys successfully argued that in such a case, authorities can only confiscate the plants under Article 137 of the General Law on Health, but that Cerdas should not face criminal penalties unless there was evidence that the man was growing marijuana with the intent to sell or distribute it.
Judge Carolina Leitón was one of the two judges that agreed, stating in her verdict, “the officers of the Judicial Police confirmed that they failed to establish that the defendant was dedicated to trafficking [marijuana].”
In fact, the Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ) even sent an undercover officer to the man’s home to attempt to purchase marijuana, and Cerdas refused.
The judge, in attempting to clarify the ruling, said that while growing marijuana is in fact illegal, it carries no criminal penalty if the intent to sell or distribute the drug cannot be determined.
The dissenting judge, for his part, argued that the number of plants that had been confiscated – 184 in total over the course of four separate raids – was evidence enough that Cerdas had intent to traffic in the drug, arguing that the number of plants was sufficient for 5,000 marijuana cigarettes, which the judge claimed was impossible for one man to smoke in a year’s time.
Cerdas, who had previously said he used marijuana for medicinal reasons, and his defense team expressed their satisfaction to the court’s ruling, though indicated that he has no plans to resume growing marijuana after the ordeal.
For their part, prosecutors say they are considering an appeal.