Eugene Davidovich was an ex-Navy man in his late twenties, earning a decent living as a software developer and project manager at Direct EDI, a local company that specializes in logistics solutions for businesses. Born and raised in San Diego, he was also a medical marijuana patient who’d organized a collective to cultivate and distribute pot on a non-profit basis following the guidelines set forth in Proposition 215.
Donna Lambert lived with the pain for as long as she could stand it. Struggling with a handful of serious illnesses, including hepatitis C, cirrhosis, cancer and Sjoegrens Disease, she began relying on marijuana to cope with chemotherapy. She joined a collective with about ten other patients after federal agents, with support from county law enforcement, raided and closed San Diego’s medical marijuana dispensaries in 2006.
Both were targeted by local and Federal law enforcement in a series of police raids dubbed “Operation Endless Summer” by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis at press conference. They were depicted by the DA to the assembled media as dangerous drug dealers, plying their trade in neighborhoods that were predominately populated by military families. Heroin, meth, guns and marijuana were supposedly all part of their evil trade. In fact what happened was that they were lured to an address rented out by the police to supply an undercover officer who’d shown them a prescription for medical marijuana. Neither of them had any connections with the military in the course of their pot related activities.
Lambert and Davidovich fought back. Both waged high profile campaigns claiming that they were being persecuted simply for abiding by the State guidelines for medical marijuana. The DA’s office hung tough, assembling a crack team of prosecutors and investigators, preparing to throw the book at these offenders.
Following a two week jury trial, Davidovich was acquitted of all charges, despite the videotape presented by the prosecution showing the sale being made to the undercover agent. Lambert, citing her continuing health issues, agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and is facing sentencing on October 12th. She believes that she could have prevailed in court.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
With pro-pot activists gearing up for what could be a precedent setting victory at the polls (Proposition 19) that would eliminate some state laws for marijuana possession; you’d think that things would be going just swell for local advocates. That’s hardly the case. Lambert and Davidovich are now poster children for internal splits that are plaguing the pro-pot community. A battle between the two of them has gone public. Each accuses the other of harassment and much, much more.
Both now stand accused (by each others supporters, mostly) of cooperating with law enforcement authorities to destroy and/or manipulate pro-marijuana organizations. Documents and videos have been posted on the web that purport to show that Davidovich is a “confidential informant”. The prosecution (unsuccessfully) attempted to use Lambert as a negative character witness against Davidovich. Lambert sought unsuccessfully to obtain a restraining order. Copies of Lamberts plea agreement have been posted on the internet with not-so-subtle hints that she’s now working for the government. Dozens of emails, memos and screen shots of internet pages have been posted on Lambert’s Facebook page to make her case.
You can spend days reading all the charges and counter-charges. (And I did) To an outsider, none of this makes sense. Nothing is actually proven—although lots of leading questions are asked—other than there is a profound and petty dislike/smear/flame war going on. There is no proof of anything about anybody that could stand up in any court.
This would all be just two people squabbling, but it’s grown beyond that. In response to emails and letters the Washington office of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) suspended the southern California chapter last week. With over 150 regional chapters, NORML has been the leading advocacy group in this arena for over 40 years.
Craig Beresh founded SoCal NORML last year, incorporating it as a non-profit, gaining accreditation from the national office, building its membership rolls to over 350 paid members and taking a leading role in supporting defendants in medical marijuana prosecutions. SoCal NORML submitted proposed language for San Diego Medical Marijuana Dispensary act, staged a public march last year in Mission Beach last year in support of marijuana reform and was preparing a class-action lawsuit defending the rights of medical pot patients.
Beresh says that, from day one, people associated with the local chapter of ASA (American for Safe Access, a group formed to support the needs of medical marijuana patients) were hostile, “trying to tear us down”. Eugene Davidovich became involved with ASA during the months leading up to his trial and now leads the group. Beresh calls Donna Lambert a friend and fellow activist and it’s clear that they are politically aligned. They say the letters complaining about SoCal NORML were generated by ASA.
A letter to Beresh from the DC office of NORML sent in late July starts of off with “Gee Craig, there seem to be people who don’t like you.”. Citing the “quality, tone and consistency of complaints” against the leadership of the SoCal Chapter, the DC office went on to suggest expanding the size of the group’s governing board, reporting more financial data to the national office and staging a vote of confidence with 30 days notice.
The emails to the DC office included allegations that Beresh was running the group with near-dictatorial control, being heavy handed in soliciting donations from local marijuana collectives and going public with disparaging remarks about other local activists via Facebook and the internet.
Ultimately, the National office decided that it was time for a change. NORML founder Keith Stroup told me that, “We’d have been delighted if we could have avoided this crisis”, calling Beresh, “a well-intentioned fellow, and an honest, committed reformer.”
“In the end”, he went on to say, “we all have to count to ten and realize that we’re all on the same side. The cardinal rule here is that we should keep those disagreements private.”
According the NORML leader, the SoCal chapter is only temporarily suspended, until a new leadership can be put in place.
Meanwhile, over at ASA, Davidovich is trying to stay focused on the cause. He says that lawyers have been badgering him to sue for slander, but that in his mind the cause is more important.
Beresh has founded a new group called the California Cannabis Coalition.
There certainly are more players here than I’ve mentioned, but as I researched this story I came to the realization that it would be easy to write 10,000 words if I included all the names and accusations that have been bandied about. Twenty five years from now this will all mean nothing. So my suggestion is that you just hold your nose and go vote for Proposition 19.