More MS news articles for June 1999

MS patient avoids prison for marijuana operation

Bill Morlin - The Spokesman-Review

A multiple sclerosis patient who smokes marijuana to ease his debilitating disease avoided prison when he was sentenced Wednesday on a federal drug charge.

Samuel D. Diana must serve six months of home detention and a year's probation under the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley.

Diana, 50, of Cheney, pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to maintaining a house for drug manufacturing, use and storage.

He is reported to be the first MS victim in the United States to legally earn the right to smoke pot to alleviate symptoms of his disease.

Three others indicted in the same case, Benjamin L. Francis, 43, Henry "Hank" Chiapetta, 46, and Larry F. Spink, 39, also received home detention or probation.

A fifth defendant, Guy Gordon Gardner, 37, will be sentenced Aug. 3. The defendants all faced the prospect of substantial prison time, including mandatory five-year terms, when they were indicted in March 1998.

The judge said the light sentences were appropriate because the government could only directly link Diana with the marijuana plants growing at his house.

Francis and Chiapetta implicated themselves with helping Diana grow multiple marijuana plants when they pleaded guilty last October and were questioned by the judge.

The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington, agreed to a lighter sentence for Diana because of his guilty plea and his medical disability.

Federal prosecutors have a month to decide if they will appeal the sentences.

In 1981, a state court in Washington ruled that Diana could legally use marijuana for medical purposes.

But in December 1997, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents learned from a tipster that Diana was not only using marijuana, but growing and selling large quantities.

Agents found 175 marijuana plants, 15 pounds of processed pot, scales, packaging material and $50,000 in cash when they raided Diana's rural home near Cheney.

The government did not seek to seize Diana's home, but he did forfeit the cash as part of his agreement.

Some of the pot was going to MS victims and others with physical disabilities who claim the drug eases their conditions.