Medical marijuana card holder sentenced for having too many plants

2009-12-17T14:20:00Z Medical marijuana card holder sentenced for having too many plantsBy GREG TUTTLE Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
December 17, 2009 2:20 pm  • 

A Billings man who holds a medical marijuana card was given a deferred sentence Thursday after admitting had had too many pot plants.

James Lee Caruso, 37, appeared before District Judge Susan Watters after pleading guilty to a felony charge of criminal production or manufacture of dangerous drugs. Caruso was charged in June after police officers found 17 marijuana plants in his garage.

Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist said a plea agreement called for the state to recommend a 12-month deferred sentence if he paid a $750 fine at or before his sentencing hearing. If he had not paid the fine, the agreement called for a recommendation of an 18-month deferred sentence, the prosecutor said.

Deputy Public Defender Michael Shin told the judge that Caruso does not have the $750 to pay the fine, but asked the judge to impose the 12-month deferred sentence, Caruso has "virtually" no criminal history, Shin said, and made the call to police that resulted in the charge against him.

Police said they found the marijuana plants in Caruso's garage. State law allows a person with a medical marijuana card to have no more than six plants.

Caruso was aware of the six-plant limit, his defense attorney said. But Shin told the judge that the marijuana plants were "all seedlings, very small plants." Caruso planned to destroy or give away the plants once he determined the gender, Shin said.

Caruso declined to make a statement before he was sentenced.

Watters said the 12-month deferred sentence was appropriate in the case.

The charge stemmed from an incident in October 2008. Caruso called 911 and said he believed he had smoked PCP, a hallucinogenic drug. Caruso also told a dispatcher he was armed with a pistol.

An officer found Caruso on the front porch of a neighbor's house, crying and "very paranoid," according to court records. The plants were found during a subsequent search of Caruso's property.

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