Judge turns a critical eye toward man’s medical pot card; charges net probation

WAILUKU – With a judge following a plea agreement, a Makawao man was placed on five years’ probation Friday for marijuana-growing and firearms charges.

As part of his sentence, Ronson Vares was ordered not to consume or possess alcohol or illegal drugs, including the marijuana that his attorney said Vares has a state medical marijuana card to use.

Referring to the drug and alcohol prohibition, 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said: “That absolutely means marijuana as well – and that’s regardless of any medical card that may be in his possession.”

Bissen said that the only way he would change that requirement would be if the defendant’s doctor were brought to court to explain why Vares needed to use marijuana.

“I want to ensure that that physician is an expert or at least familiar with the principles of addiction,” Bissen said. “I’d like to be assured there is no other alternative forms of medication available to the defendant.”

Vares, 23, had pleaded no contest to prohibited possession of a firearm and ammunition, second-degree commercial promotion of marijuana and possessing drug paraphernalia in connection with a police Crime Reduction Unit investigation and search of his family’s home on Pilipaa Place on Oct. 21, 2011.

Police reported finding 18 mature marijuana plants and 23 seedlings.

In a locked storage shed on the property, police found a Mossberg pump-action shotgun that had been stolen in a burglary, seven shotgun shells and 64 long-rifle rounds.

Vares’ parents, Leila Ah Yen and Galen Vares, also were arrested. Both pleaded no contest to drug charges and served one-year jail terms. Ah Yen, who was the target of the search warrant, also was placed on five years’ probation last year.

In court Friday, defense attorney David Sereno said Ronson Vares had moved out of the home before the search warrant was executed and had been living with his then-pregnant girlfriend.

“There was a lot of drug dealing going on, drug use,” Sereno said. “He didn’t believe it was safe for his girlfriend and unborn child.”

Sereno said Vares was growing marijuana on the property but has a state medical marijuana card to use the drug for a condition that has affected his hearing and balance.

“It was basically one huge plant and several seedlings around it,” Sereno said.

He said the plant was “tied down in intervals as it grew.”

Vares wasn’t accepting responsibility for the gun, Sereno said, noting that Vares’ parents lived above the shed and “had the easiest access.”

“The kind of people who need guns are people who are using methamphetamine, who are paranoid, and the people who are selling methamphetamine and are paranoid that people are going to steal their meth,” Sereno said.

Deputy Prosecutor Tracy Jones said that the shotgun had been reported stolen in a 2005 “burglary-type” case. She said there was “some indication” that Ronson Vares had been involved in the case “but not proof.” The gun was found in a room that Ah Yen indicated was occupied by her son, Jones said.

She said the plea agreement recommending probation for Vares took into consideration his medical condition.

Vares was given credit for 47 days he previously spent in jail. According to court records, he has a prior conviction for second-degree theft.

Sereno said Vares has now moved back into the family home with his parents.

“Life at Ronson’s house is as normal as it gets at this point,” Sereno said. “He seems to have a somewhat stable environment, something he’s never had in his life.”

When Sereno asked about the medical marijuana prohibition, Bissen said Vares’ case would be treated the same as other such cases in his courtroom.

Bissen said that he had more information after recently attending a Drug Court conference.

“People can get a medical marijuana card based upon just about anything,” Bissen said. “If they’re not on probation, that’s fine. If it’s somebody who we are going to monitor on probation and we’re prohibiting substances, they’re not going to be allowed to rely on the medical marijuana card without more basis.

“There’s information out there that suggests that some of these prescriptions are not legitimate.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.