Marijuana advocate Ruggles found not guilty

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald file photo Mike Ruggles appears Oct. 16 in Hilo Circuit Court.

A 62-year-old Mountain View man was found not guilty Thursday of charges relating to the running of an unlicensed marijuana dispensary in 2015.

Michael “Mike” Doyle Ruggles, a longtime marijuana advocate, was joined by dozens of supporters for a jury trial that lasted more than two weeks to deliberate on charges of promotion of a detrimental drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.

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Ruggles originally faced several more serious charges, including first-degree commercial promotion of marijuana and first-degree promotion of a harmful drug, which, if convicted, could have landed him 20 years in prison each. Those charges were dropped before the trial, however.

Ruggles’ trial originates from an incident in 2015 when police raided a Fern Acres property and seized 134 marijuana plants, 49.3 pounds of processed marijuana, 1.2 pounds and 357 capsules of marijuana concentrate, 5.5 pounds of marijuana edibles, $1,846 in cash and two loaded weapons, according to a police report.

The search came after Ruggles allegedly sold 48.3 grams of marijuana to an undercover officer who had not obtained a medical marijuana card.

Ruggles said he was only ensuring that medical marijuana patients had a way to obtain marijuana in the years before the state Legislature authorized marijuana dispensaries.

A 2013 law, Hawaii Act 178, authorized “primary caregivers” to transfer marijuana to a patient, which Ruggles said proved the legality of his actions.

Ruggles said he thinks the state attorney general targeted him for undermining the state’s dispensary program, which Ruggles thinks is fundamentally unlawful and compared it to racketeering.

Opposing Ruggles at trial was deputy prosecutor Rick Damerville, who Ruggles called “the best prosecutor in the county,” and another sign that the state was determined to make an example of him.

“It sounds insane, but I was actually rooting for them,” Ruggles said. “I was hoping I would lose, and we could go upstairs to fix it.”

Ruggles credited his victory to the legal assistance of Hilo attorney Stanton Oshiro — who helped prepare Ruggles’ case, although Ruggles ultimately represented himself — and the strong community support behind him.

“It was the spirit of aloha that saved me,” Ruggles said. “I think the jury saw them and realized that I was fighting for the community.”

Ruggles also thanked Judge Greg Nakamura for his handling of the case.

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With the trial out of the way after four years, Ruggles said his next fight will be to reform the county jails. Ruggles said he was detained at Hawaii Community Correctional Center during the case and was hospitalized because of poor conditions.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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