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Cannabis Charges Against Patient Who Hiked on Federal Land Go Up In Smoke

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Nathan Freddy fought the law … and the law lost.

Nearly a year ago, the medical marijuana patient was approached by a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger over a missing permit shortly after taking a naked photo in Aravaipa Canyon. During the encounter, the ranger discovered that Freddy had marijuana with him. Though the pot was legally obtained in Arizona, he was still charged with possession of a controlled substance in violation of federal law.

While Freddy said prosecutors offered to drop the charge if he paid a fine, he told Phoenix New Times in September that he was going to contest the charge on principle. He wanted to be judged by a jury of his peers, who he believed would view as absurd the notion of marijuana being legal in a state but illegal if you wander onto federal lands in that same state.

Freddy’s refusal to cut a deal and smooth the crunching gears of the plea bargain-dependent legal system appears to have paid off. Last month, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against him, just two weeks before they were supposed to go to trial. He’ll face no fines and no jail time.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” Freddy told New Times this week. On one hand, he wanted the chance to be vindicated in court. On the other, now he doesn’t have to drive to federal court in Tucson — a five-hour round trip from his home in Safford that he’s had to make four times already, taking off from work each time.

“Those things are like a weight they use to try and get you to pay the fines,” he said of the trips.

Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Esther Winne said she couldn’t comment on the case. Federal public defender Ángeles Rodríguez-Madera said he and the other public defender representing Freddy, Fernanda ‘Fey’ Muñoz, were “really happy” with the result of the case, but couldn’t say anything further.

Freddy said his team was actively preparing to go to trial when prosecutors dropped the case; he added that his lawyers told him it was unusual for prosecutors to pursue a charge like his for so long. The officer who cited him never showed up to earlier hearings, citing “training,” he said, and the state didn’t provide evidence until about a month before the scheduled trial date.

The March 10 motion by federal prosecutors to drop the charges against Freddy didn’t offer any reason for the move. But it was a dismissal without prejudice, meaning the case could theoretically be refiled at a later date.

Freddy tells New Times he’s headed back to Aravaipa Canyon next month for another trip — though, he admits, it may be a good idea to leave the cannabis behind this time. 

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