Phoenix New Times: “Valley marijuana patients lost another over-the-counter source for their meds earlier this month when Gilbert police raided Arizona Natural Solutions in Mesa. . . . Paul Bellesen, 22, Chad Czarnecki, 24, and Robert Ryan, 25, are accused of selling pot and “narcotics,” (this is another example of police wanting to utilize the ludicrous state statute that defines marijuana products like hashish as something other than marijuana), and possessing drug paraphernalia.”
The following is the text of an October 25, 2012, press release issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency:
A dozen people associated with a chain of nine marijuana stores that operated across Orange and Los Angeles counties were arrested this morning on federal drug trafficking charges. The 12 arrested are among 14 people named in a 14-count indictment returned last week by a federal grand jury.
The indictment outlines a narcotics-trafficking conspiracy led by John Melvin Walker, who owned and operated nine marijuana stores in cities across the two counties. The conspiracy count alleges that the 14 defendants participated in a scheme that distributed, at the very least, a ton of marijuana through the storefronts.
The nine marijuana stores allegedly operated by Walker were Alternative Herbal Health in Long Beach, Safe Harbor Collective in Dana Point, Garden Grove Alternative Care in Garden Grove, Santa Ana Superior Care in Santa Ana, Belmont Shore Natural Care in Long Beach, Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care in Santa Fe Springs, Costa Mesa Patients Association in Costa Mesa, the Whittier Collective in Whittier, and APCC (also known as the “San Juan Capistrano Store”) in San Juan Capistrano. Most of the stores previously were the subject of search warrants executed in 2010 and 2011. Most of the nine stores are now closed, but several are believed to still be in operation, including Belmont Shore Natural Care.
The investigation in this case revealed that the nine marijuana stores generated tens of millions of dollars in income, with the indictment alleging that in 2009 alone Safe Harbor Collective had profits of approximately $2.4 million.
The indictment alleges that Walker failed to report any income generated at the marijuana stores to federal tax authorities and that he instructed his bookkeeper “to destroy all records pertaining to income generated at the marijuana [stores] shortly after they were generated and not to create records that fully identified Walker’s connection to the marijuana [stores].” One of the managers of Belmont Shore Natural Care communicated to Walker that “they should shred documents related to cash intake at Belmont Shore Natural Care at the end of the night,” according to the indictment.
The charges in the indictment include conspiracy (to distribute marijuana and to maintain drug-involved premises) and maintaining drug-involved premises near schools. Additionally, Walker is charged with being a felon in possession of firearms (including a handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an AK-47) after previously being convicted in state court on cocaine and marijuana charges. When authorities seized the weapons from Walker’s home last year, they also seized approximately $390,000 in cash.
Furthermore, Walker and his security manager are charged with possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, a crime that carries a mandatory five-year sentence to run consecutively to any other sentence given to the defendants.
The defendants named in the indictment are:
- John Melvin Walker, also knows an “Pops,” 56, of San Clemente, the owner/operator of the nine marijuana stores;
- Ryan Aparicio Mondragon, 30, Westminster, who managed Santa Ana Superior Care and who is currently being sought by authorities;
- Danielle Pamela Stebel, also known as “Mob Queen,” 25, of Long Beach, who helped manage Belmont Shore Natural Care;
- Nicholas Einar Lattu, also known as “Dragon 6,” 28, of Long Beach, who owned Shadow Ops Security, a company that provided security services to the marijuana stores, and who is currently being sought by authorities;
- Ryan Scott Hunt, 36, of Fullerton, who managed Garden Grove Alternative Care;
- Perry Brooks Forehand, also known as “Bucky,” 33, of Mission Viejo, the manager of Safe Harbor Collective;
- Nicholas Martin Butier III, 32, of Lakewood, who was the manager of Alternative Herbal Health;
- Sierra Marina Serhan, also known as “Happy Chick,” 33, of Long Beach, who helped manage Belmont Shore Natural Care;
- Alvin Wesley Walker, 29, of Long Beach, who is believed to be John Walker’s nephew and who helped manage Belmont Shore Natural Care;
- John Eugene Scandalios, 59, of Lakewood, who allegedly supplied marijuana to Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care;
- Karen Lee Leto, 70, of Huntington Beach, who allegedly helped manage Costa Mesa Patients Association;
- Craig Lawrence Leto, 49, of Newport Beach who is Karen Leto’s son and who allegedly helped manage Costa Mesa Patients Association;
- Michael Alan Nixon, 33, of Long Beach, who allegedly supplied marijuana to Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care;
- Alan David Nixon, 59, of Long Beach, who is Michael Nixon’s father and who allegedly managed Santa Fe Compassionate Health Care.
The 12 defendants arrested this morning are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
All 14 defendants charged in the indictment are named in count one – the conspiracy charge – which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum statutory sentence of life without parole.
The investigation into John Walker’s chain of marijuana stores was conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the California Franchise Tax Board; the California Board of Equalization; and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
See also “A dozen people who authorities say are linked to an intricate, multimillion-dollar operation involving illegal pot shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties were arrested Thursday and “L.A. Marijuana Dispensary Operator, 11 Others, Arrested By Feds.”
AZCentral.com: “Police are searching for three men after a shooting left one injured at a Tempe medical-marijuana co-op [called AzGoGreen Co-op] Thursday evening, authorities said. . . . Tempe police on Friday said the co-op had been under investigation prior to the shooting. Police were investigating whether the dispensary was selling marijuana before it was authorized to do so by the Arizona medical marijuana law”
Forbes: “With 15 states having legalized the sale of medicinal marijuana, the only thing growing faster than the number of 24-year old males with questionable glaucoma prescriptions is the IRS’s scrutiny of this controversial industry. While local law may have blessed the existence of medicinal marijuana facilities, the IRS is not bound by such decisions. The IRS cares only about tax collections, and during 2012 it threw down the gauntlet, presenting a flurry of challenges to medicinal marijuana dispensaries that indicate the Service’s willingness, and more importantly, its ability, to tax the industry out of existence. In early March, the IRS audited tax returns of a Marin County, California facility and denied all of the company’s deductions — payroll, rent, utilities…everything – for 2008 and 2009, resulting in an assessed tax in the “millions and millions” according to the facility’s founder and director.”
Read the Tax Court’s opinion involving Martin Olive’s dispensary called The Vapor Room in the case of Olive v. Commissioner, 139 T.C. 2, (2012).
Americans for Safe Access: “The Fourth District Court of Appeal for California issued a unanimous published ruling today in a landmark medical marijuana case that reverses the conviction of a San Diego dispensary operator, Jovan Jackson, convicted in September 2010 after being denied a defense in state court. Today’s landmark ruling also reversed the lower court’s finding that Jackson was not entitled to a defense, providing the elements for such a defense in future jury trials. “This landmark decision not only recognizes the right of dispensaries to exist and provide medical marijuana to their patient members, it also grants a defense for those providers in state court,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access”
Oregon Live: “The Human Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary shut down last month by Washington County authorities, is expected to reopen next week with the same membership fee and similar prices for marijuana. The new establishment has one key distinction from its predecessor: It’s located in Multnomah County, widely perceived as a friendlier environment for medical marijuana retail outlets.”
San Diego Reader: “The District Attorney’s office has shut down yet another medical marijuana dispensary in the City of San Diego. Yesterday [October 24, 2012] agents and police officers raided the Next Generation Cannabis Club on San Ysidro Boulevard.”
mlive.com: “John Clemens Marcinkewciz II had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and manufacture of 100 or more marijuana plants. . . . U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell, who denied Marcinkewciz’s request to use Michigan’s medical marijuana law as a defense, will sentence Marcinkewciz.”
USA Today: “Three states will vote Nov. 6 on whether to allow recreational use of marijuana. There’s still a federal prohibition, and approval would surely bring court challenges. Now that medical marijuana is permitted in about one-third of the nation, advocates hope to move beyond therapeutic uses with ballot questions in three states that could legalize pot for recreational use. Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon face proposals to change state laws to permit possession and regulate the sale of marijuana — though the plant with psychoactive properties remains an illegal substance under federal law.
Associated Press: ” Across New Jersey, most communities approached about hosting one of the state’s first legal medical marijuana dispensaries in out-of-the-way industrial zones have just said no, after outpourings of public opposition. Montclair is a different story.”
Will Humble, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services wrote the following on October 22, 2012, on his blog:
“There seems to be some confusion going on right now about the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act and products made with marijuana. Patients and caregivers can make edibles and things like tinctures with usable marijuana from the patient or caregiver’s allowable amount of marijuana. However, there’s really no legal way for a patient or caregiver to sell these edibles or tinctures, to anybody. A patient or caregiver may be able to purchase these products from a dispensary, once the dispensary is licensed to operate.”
The Jefferson County, Colorado, court system issued the following October 17, 2012, press release:
“(Golden, CO – October 16, 2012) The owner of a medical marijuana dispensary and two men associated with him have entered guilty pleas for their roles in the sale of almost $400,000 worth of marijuana following a drug bust by the West Metro Drug Task Force (WMDTF) in December, 2011.
Dmitriy Genzer, DOB: 12/11/80, owner of Cannabis and Company, a medical marijuana dispensary at 4379 Tejon Street, Denver, was arrested for attempting to sell 200 pounds of marijuana to someone he believed to be a bulk purchaser from Pennsylvania, but who was actually an undercover WMDTF officer.
Joseph Alejo, DOB: 1-5-83 and Aaron Garcia, DOB: 2/20/87 were also arrested as participants in the illegal drug transaction. Both men were on probation for prior marijuana distribution convictions.
Following a sting operation on December 7, 2011, Genzer, Alejo and Garcia were arrested by the WMDTF. Part of the transaction took place at a hotel at 10101 S. I-70 Frontage Road in Wheat Ridge. The three men delivered 160 lbs. as part of the transaction and officers seized another 23 lbs. at a storage facility. On November 30 the men had provided three pounds of marijuana to undercover officers as a sample. A total of 187 pounds of high grade marijuana was seized.
All three men pled guilty on October 12, 2012.
Genzer pled guilty on to Distribution of 100 lbs. or more of Marijuana (F3) and Distribution of less than 5 lbs. of Marijuana. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Alejo pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute 100 lbs. or more of Marijuana (F4) and Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana (F5). He faces up to 18 years in prison.
Garcia pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana (F5). He faces up to six years in prison.
Sentencing has been set for January 7 at 1:00 p.m.”
Arizona Attorney General & Maricopa County Attorney Want Judge to Rule Arizona Medical Marijuana Facilities are Prevented by Federal Law
East Valley Tribune: “Prosecutors urged a judge Friday to declare medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities as preempted by federal law. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said there’s no question but that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And he told Judge Michael Gordon that law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug for which there is no legitimate medical use. What that means, Montgomery argued, is the state is powerless to do anything that ultimately results in the state issuing a license to someone to sell marijuana. If nothing else, he said the requirements of the 2010 voter-approved law for public officials to act put them in the position where they could be prosecuted under federal law for aiding someone else in obtaining the drug.”
See “Judge doesn’t rule following two-hour marijuana hearing” which says “Lawyers for Arizona and the state’s most populous county argued in court Friday that federal drug laws pre-empt Arizona’s voter-approved medical marijuana law.” See also “Arizona Medical-Marijuana Law Debated in Court; Judge Criticizes Wording of 2010 Law” which says the judge in the case said “‘Ultimate irony is that Arizona could have decriminalized pot and said it’s not going to be prosecuted under state law’.”
Forbes: “The medical marijuana industry is under siege. Legal in 17 States and the District of Columbia, the marijuana dispensaries are not recognized as legal operations under federal law. Aside from the constant threat of raids and civil asset forfeiture, medical marijuana dispensaries also have to contend with payment blockades and outright refusal of banking services. This state law-federal law dichotomy has led the major payment associations and large credit card processors to shun the entire merchant category. American Express and Discover announced separately that they would follow federal law on the matter. Decisions regarding VISA and Mastercard transactions are mostly in the hands of the large acquiring processors which tend to interpret the law from the federal perspective rather than the state perspective.”
Arizona Republic: “The top lawyers for the state and county, strong opponents of Arizona’s medical-marijuana laws, will argue in court today that federal drug laws pre-empt the voter-approved law. Attorneys arguing on behalf of White Mountain Health Center of Sun City, meanwhile, charge that state law does not require anyone to violate federal laws by issuing permits for medical-marijuana activities since the state has decriminalized those acts. In their lawsuit, they also allege that Maricopa County illegally rejected the center’s registration certificate, which is among the state requirements to become a medical-marijuana dispensary applicant. At stake is the future of medical marijuana in Arizona.”
Arizona Republic: “A southeast Tucson medical-marijuana dispensary is the first in Arizona to request a state inspection, the final step before it could open. The Green Halo dispensary is one of 37 in Arizona, including 11 in the Valley, that have so far been awarded dispensary registration certificates by the Arizona Department of Health Services.”
PhillyBurbs: “Ed ‘NJWeedman’ Forchion hopes the not-guilty verdict a Burlington County jury rendered in his pot distribution trial plants a seed for other medical marijuana patients and sparks a change in the law. ‘I think other patients should argue the same points. They can call it the ‘Weedman defense,’ he said after a jury of 10 women and two men returned the verdict Thursday following an hourlong deliberation that ended the three-day trial. ‘The law is wrong. My jury heard that and understood that’.”
The Daily Californian: “The city of Oakland has filed a lawsuit against U.S. authorities [U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California] Melinda Haag that claims the federal government has overstepped its jurisdiction in the attempted closure of a local medical marijuana dispensary [Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in California]. The suit, filed on Oct. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, could affect all dispensaries in California — including the three medical cannabis dispensaries in Berkeley — after a federal crackdown on cannabis dispensaries began last fall. The crackdown negates a promise by the Obama administration not to raid dispensaries in compliance with state law and guidelines.”
Arizona Republic: “A woman is suing the state, claiming police violated Arizona’s medical-marijuana laws when they seized a marijuana-infused oil during a raid of her home last spring. Charise Voss Arfa, a medical-marijuana patient, claims police wrongfully considered the oil labeled ‘Soccer Moms Tincture’ a narcotic instead of marijuana.”
Seattle Weekly: “The DEA sent three more letters to medical marijuana dispensaries last week, agency spokesperson Jodie Underwood confirms. The letters “strongly advised” the dispensaries to pay “prompt attention” to the fact that they were breaking federal law and directed them to shut down within 30 days. That makes 29 dispensaries the feds have so warned, including 23 facilities that got letters in late August and three a few weeks later.”
Read ” DEA Sends Threatening Letter to 23 Area Medical Pot Dispensaries Determined to Be Too Close to Kids.”
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: “G3 Holistic owner and Rancho Cucamonga resident Aaron Sandusky, 41, was convicted of two counts of violating federal marijuana laws Friday by a jury which could not reach a decision on four other counts. Conviction on the two counts could still net him a prison term of 10 years to life . . . . Sandusky, who ran G3 Holistic, Inc. in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley, was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants, to possess with intent to distribute marijuana plants, and to maintain a drug-involved premises; and one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.”
CBS Seattle: “Washington state is on the verge of becoming the first in the nation to let adults over 21 buy taxed, inspected marijuana at state-licensed shops.”
89.3 KPCC: “Long Beach police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided seven medical marijuana dispensaries Wednesday in what officials said was the beginning of a crackdown on pot shops in the city. ‘We started with this first seven, and it is our intent to continue targeting each of these locations until we reach every single one of them,’ said police spokeswoman Nancy Pratt. . . . Police arrested 40 people in Wednesday’s raid”
Los Angeles Times: “In an unprecedented civil complaint, the city of Oakland is suing federal prosecutors to stop them from seizing property leased by the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary. The complaint seeks to ‘restrain and declare unlawful’ a July federal forfeiture action against Harborside Health Center’s landlords in Oakland and San Jose.”
The Daily Courier: “When officers with the multi-agency Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) task force arrested four people in connection with selling pot-laced candy bars last month, it was the culmination of an investigation that began in April and led them to Phoenix and back to Prescott. Christopher Lee Martin, 37, and Andrea Lyn Martin, 33, both of Prescott, were arrested along with Todd James, 40, and Christopher Goodrich, 39, both of Phoenix. They face various drug-related charges”
Arizona real estate attorney William A. Kozub wrote an article called “Civil & Criminal Issues with Commercial Leases in the Medical Marijuana Industry” published on the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business website. It’s recommended reading for landlords, real estate brokers, realtors and others who are involved with or considering becoming involved with a lease of Arizona land to a medical marijuana dispensary or a medical marijuana grow facility. Here are some statements made in the article:
“all owners, agents and property managers who have sought to reap the benefits of the medical marijuana industry must also be aware of the significant civil and criminal risks inherent in this industry, risks that arise from the fact that federal law does not recognize the medical use of marijuana. . . . While a criminal prosecution of the landlord may not occur, the landlord’s building may find that it is a named defendant in a forfeiture proceeding. Federal law clearly provides for the seizure of ‘all real property, including any right, title, and interest (including any leasehold interest) in the whole of any lot or tract of land and any appurtenances or improvements, which is used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, a violation of this subchapter punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment’.”
High Desert Daily Press: “The doors to one of the last remaining medical marijuana dispensaries in Hesperia are permanently locked, after owners of the High Desert Compassionate Collective were evicted. . . . Since 2005, 20 collectives have been closed, as the city began citing property owners for allowing collectives to operate without a business permit, certificate of occupancy or other city required documents.
Tahoe Daily Tribune: “Although the former Third Street site of the City of Angels 2 medical marijuana collective sat shuttered Friday, the fight over the marijuana dispensary appears far from over. . . . the dispensary’s owner, Gino DiMatteo . . . was arrested and charged with felony counts of bribery, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of a controlled substance and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
Medical Marijuana Lawsuit Reviewing Scientific Evidence Reaches Federal Court for First Time in Nearly 20 Years
The following is the text of a press release by Americans for Safe Access on October 5, 2012.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, a United States Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value: Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. This historic case will force a federal court to finally review the scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic efficacy of marijuana.
During a press briefing Thursday, plaintiffs in the case, along with leading medical researchers and clinicians, spoke about the necessity of the federal government recognizing current scientific data supporting marijuana rescheduling. Marijuana is currently classified in the same category as heroin despite calls from scientists, medical professionals, and policy makers to reschedule marijuana for medical use.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear opening arguments on the case the morning of October 16, 2012. “Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), who will be arguing the case before the D.C. Circuit. “What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”
On the call, Dr. Donald Abrams, Director of Clinical Programs at San Francisco General Hospital, described the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment regimens of cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. “In my practice every day as a cancer specialist I see patients who have loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting from their chemotherapy, pain on and off of opiates, anxiety, depression, and insomnia,” conditions which Dr. Abrams said can be alleviated by medical marijuana.
Dr. Igor Grant, Executive Vice-Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, stated that multiple California state-supported studies have resulted in “very good evidence” that medical marijuana “is effective in treating muscle spasticity,” which is often experienced by patients with Multiple sclerosis and other painful disorders. He added that it is critical to separate out patients’ legitimate medical needs from other issues surrounding marijuana’s distribution and usage. Dr. Grant recently published a study in Open Neurology Journal concluding that marijuana’s current classification is “untenable.”
Plaintiff Michael Krawitz, a Gulf War veteran and medical marijuana patient, conveyed his struggle in managing his combat-related pain without relinquishing federally-mandated VA benefits under marijuana’s current classification. Without access to medical marijuana, he stated he is in danger of destabilizing his overall health condition, a situation Krawitz has faced multiple times due to federal policy.
“The time has come to address medical marijuana as a public health issue and for the federal government to prioritize science over politics,” Sherer said.
Listen to the audiotape of a teleconference briefing with researchers, legal counsel and lawsuit plaintiff.
Los Angeles Times: “The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted 11-2 to repeal its recent ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, averting a March election on the explosive issue of storefront pot sales.”