The first multiple sclerosis victim in the United States to legally use marijuana faces federal charges in Spokane for growing and selling pot.
Samuel Dean Diana says he smokes marijuana daily, as he’s done for 20 years, to alleviate his debilitating symptoms.
In 1981, a Spokane County judge ruled Diana could legally use pot for medical purposes. The state court ruling set aside his 1977 felony arrest for possessing marijuana.
“It’s the best drug on the market for MS,” Diana said Friday. “It’s just that you can’t legally buy it anywhere. There aren’t any government stores.”
Federal investigators now allege that Diana wasn’t just using small amounts of marijuana, but growing large amounts of pot and selling it to others.
Four other men are named as co-defendants in the grand jury indictment returned Thursday.
“The indictment speaks for itself, and it charges, among other things, a conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and distribution of marijuana,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington.
“This is a sensitive matter,” Harrington said, declining to answer any questions about the case.
U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly, who approved the case for prosecution, wasn’t available for comment.
Federal, state and county drug agents found more than 100 pot plants and $53,000 cash during a December search of Diana’s rural home near Cheney.
His plants ranged from seedlings to mature plants and others that were being dried.
Diana said his plants were at various growth stages so he could have a continual supply. He said he smokes 21 to 28 marijuana cigarettes a day to counter his MS, “and it really helps me.”
He said that during the raid agents detained him in a back room “while they tore the place apart.”
He wasn’t arrested then, but is being summoned to appear next Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.
Diana said that will be the first time in weeks he’s left his home.
“I don’t think I’ve left home more than six or eight times the past two years, for birthdays, the dentist, things like that,” said Diana.
He no longer drives, and uses a cane or a wheelchair to get around.
He gets Social Security disability and doesn’t work because of the nerve disorder.
He was divorced a few years ago, and lives alone in the home he recently built on 10 acres his father gave him.
His attorney, Phillip “Dutch” Wetzel, said he couldn’t comment on the case.
Diana’s father, Carl Diana, and brother, George Diana, are also attorneys. They declined to comment.
“This is a real delicate situation right now, and I just can’t comment,” Carl Diana said.
Samuel Diana is accused in a five-count indictment of maintaining a place for manufacturing, storing, distributing and using a controlled substance.
He also is charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, manufacturing more than 100 pot plants, possessing with intent to distribute more than 100 pot plants and distribution of marijuana.
Federal authorities have not filed documents seeking to seize Diana’s home or other property, as is common in drug cases.
Others named in the indictment are Benjamin Luke Francis, Henry Joseph Chiappetta, Guy Gordon Gardener and Larry Fay Spink. Their ages and hometowns weren’t available. All four are charged with conspiracy and manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants. Francis also is charged with possession and distribution of marijuana.
Defense attorney Tim Trageser, who represents Chiappetta, said he “anticipates some of the people involved may be raising the medical-necessity defense.”