Medi-pot advocate heads to prison

Joel Castle says he prefers bars to condition he not smoke marijuana

Joel Castle would rather go to prison for nine months than spend the next three years on probation. That’s how serious he is about his medicine.

Castle, who was found guilty last month of two felonies associated with a guitar-for-pot trade back in January 2010, was sentenced earlier this month. First, Judge Robert Glusman offered three years’ probation. Castle refused, made a bit of a stink in court, and was sentenced instead to two years, eight months in state prison.

“I wish you had been there,” he said, speaking into a phone on the other side of a thick piece of glass in the Butte County Jail. He was wearing a sweat suit—it was still cold outside, although it was June 4, four days after his sentencing. “It was the first time I really spoke my mind to that judge.”

He wasn’t joking—though there were a few small incidents during his trial that resulted in chiding from the judge, none required Castle to be ejected from the courtroom until his sentencing.

“I was offered probation a year ago. I didn’t take it then; why would they think I’d take it now?” he said, referring to a proposed deal with the prosecution last year that would have required he plead guilty, something he would not do.

“On probation, the ‘D.A.’s conditions,’ not laws, that I consider illegal, apply,” Castle explained in a letter to this reporter. Those conditions “take away my Prop 215 rights for three years, which I have and will always refuse as the medical cannabis advocate of Butte County.”

Parole, on the other hand, usually does not come with the stipulation of not smoking pot with a doctor’s recommendation.

Castle requested several times during the past year that his attorney, public defender Larry Willis, be taken off his case, to no avail. He joked during a recent interview that Willis’ tactic during trial—he argued that the substance found in the bag given to an undercover police officer and found in Castle’s hotel room was not, indeed, marijuana—was absurd. “I’m an advocate for medical marijuana,” he said. A phone call to Willis’ Chico office was not returned by press time.

Castle is also a little miffed that three misdemeanor charges involving separate incidences of violating his probation by smoking marijuana were dismissed. He’d rather have them heard in court and added to the public record than dismissed, he said. They were acts of protest that went generally ignored, and, as such, led him to remand himself into Butte County Jail custody more than once in further acts of protest against conditions requiring he not smoke his medicine. (Oddly enough, his extended time spent in jail will cut his prison term by more than half, leaving him with roughly nine months in his sentence.)

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Greeson had hoped Castle would have gotten a little more time in prison. The judge gave him the lower term, he said, and he’d requested about a year more. He said he has received a notice of appeal, but the state Attorney General’s Office will have to decide whether it will participate and request Castle be sentenced more strictly.

Castle was transferred from Butte County Jail last Wednesday (June 8), and though he’d been told he’d be heading to Susanville, Greeson said there was no guarantee he’d make it that far. Prisoners typically go first to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, where they are evaluated and placed in various prisons. Because he has so little time left in his sentence, Castle might be there for a few months and then simply paroled, Greeson said.

“I have a feeling the saga of Joel Castle is not yet finished,” Greeson said.

Castle agrees.

“My advocacy does and will not stop at the door of the prison,” he writes. When asked if he’s worried about life in prison, he adds, “There are many men in prison that have been put there by Butte County’s probation department and this district attorney, Mike Ramsey. I will be welcomed there with a red carpet.”