Mary A. Castillo
When Ross Embry, 53, pleaded innocent to two felony counts of
cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana, he also declared a
fight for the medicinal use of marijuana.
"I've been HIV positive since 1980," he said. "Through thick and
thin I've fought the fight. I'm a fighter and a survivor."
Seven years ago Embry's life hung in the balance when his weight
dropped and his T-cell count stood at 18, indicating that he had a
nearly non-existent immune system. As his energy dwindled, Embry
promised that if he returned to health, he would use that second
chance to give back.
Embry feels that the chance to fulfill the promise he made arrived
at 7:50 p.m., Sept. 17 when Laguna Beach police officers knocked on
his apartment in Hagan Place, a low-income residence for individuals
living with HIV and AIDS.
Narcotics officers had just received an anonymous tip that someone
was growing a lot of pot that could be easily seen by anyone, Sgt.
Jason Kravetz said.
When Embry opened his door that evening, he remembered the hairs
on the back of his neck standing on end. For 15 seconds he froze, but
then realized this was the chance he had been waiting for.
"At first I was like, what is this," he said. "Then I realized
this is spirit using me to fight the fight."
Police discovered 12 marijuana plants Embry had growing on his
patio that faced the inner courtyard of the building as well as an
estimated 4 to 6 pounds of dried herb.
"He was very open with the officers and admitted to growing it and
giving it to his friends," Kravetz said. "He was very cooperative
going through the entire contact."
Embry said he shared marijuana with 15 people suffering through
the same kind of pain and nausea he endures. He claims marijuana is
the only remedy to the side effects caused by HIV and AIDS
"Pharmaceuticals don't do the job that marijuana does," he said.
"That's why I grew it."
After his arraignment on Wednesday, Embry will return for a
preliminary hearing on Oct. 30. But he realizes that he may stand to
walk a long legal path.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which makes
provisions for seriously ill patients to have the right to obtain and
use marijuana for medical purposes upon a recommendation from their
physician. The law, as it falls under the California Health and
Safety Code 11362, specifies that patients who have a written or oral
recommendation or approval from a physician to use marijuana are
protected from laws against the possession and cultivation of
However, when police searched Embry's apartment they said they did
not find sufficient evidence that he had a doctor's recommendation or
approval to use marijuana.
Embry said that he hopes his case will illustrate what he calls
"draconian, flawed laws" and point out that the state legislature has
not met the will of the people and that it has been remiss in
implementing a plan that will enable safe and affordable distribution
to all patients in medical need.
"We need to be vigilant right here in our town to guarantee our
freedom and way of life," he said. "I feel as if I'm a vehicle for