A year after the medical-marijuana dispensary raids, charges are filed

Three people are charged; DA says more pending

A year ago today (June 30), the Butte County Sheriff’s Office called in law-enforcement help from all over the North State to raid eight local medical-marijuana dispensaries and their owners’ homes. Last week, the District Attorney’s Office filed its first charges linked to those raids.

Brothers Jason and Michael Anderson were charged with six felonies: one for cultivation of marijuana, two for possession of marijuana for sale, and three for sales of marijuana. A woman, Kaitlyn Sanchez, was charged with one count of possession for sale and three of sales. All three live in Forest Ranch and were connected to the Mountainside Patient Collective, which was located off Highway 32 west of Chico.

“The defendants have been caught on some very serious crimes,” said Special Assistant DA Helen Harberts. “These are the first of the filings. There will be several. We’re looking at each one as to the legal grounds for how we will proceed.”

Harberts, who spoke by phone from the road, is leading the DA’s investigation and said she’ll be filing charges over the next couple of months.

According to the statement of probable cause within the search warrant (dated June 24, 2010), the Butte County Sheriff’s Office conducted two undercover buys at Mountainside Patient Collective. The first was an officer with a fraudulent recommendation. He showed his ID and phony rec, but signed no paperwork and was able to purchase marijuana. The second was a confidential informant with no recommendation. He was able to walk in and buy an ounce of marijuana for $170.

“This case was pretty rank,” Harberts said. “It was surprisingly easy to go in and buy.”

The phone at Mountainside has been disconnected, and efforts to contact the three defendants were unsuccessful.

Looking at the search-warrant affidavits for the other collectives, it appears she’s right. In most instances at the other locations, staff validated recommendations and refused service to anyone without one.

All of them approved the officer with the phony recommendation—he’d taken someone else’s valid rec, photocopied it and replaced the name and photo with his own. When staff endeavored to validate it, they were asked to log onto the doctor’s website and type in the recommendation number, which simply said it was valid and did not include the patient’s name or photo.

Beyond the sales allegations, Harberts said she was disturbed by the number of young people who joined Mountainside Patient Collective.

“Across the board, the data gave us about 50 percent under 30,” she said of the age of members whose recommendations were on file at all of the collectives. “This place had 70 percent under 30. That’s a disproportionate number of young people.”

Depending on whether these cases go to trial, she said, all of the collective’s members—everyone with a recommendation on file there—are currently on a subpoena list, as are their doctors.

“The law does not authorize sales of marijuana,” Harberts said. “We’re going to put it to a jury and see what they say.”

For those involved in other collectives that were raided last summer, this is not good news.

“Of course I’m worried,” said Robert Galia, who runs North Valley Holistic Health, the only collective still up and running. “I’m still very confident we did nothing wrong. But that’s our opinion, and I know [District Attorney] Mike Ramsey’s got his.”

Scot Candell, who specializes in medical-marijuana law, is the attorney for NVHH. He agrees that they’ve followed the law.

“North Valley Holistic Health has done nothing wrong,” he said by phone from his office in San Rafael. “I can’t speak on behalf of any other collective in Butte County, but I know that NVHH was strictly complying with state laws—and the DA is supposed to enforce state laws.”

What really worries Galia, however, is that if he is charged, even though he’s confident he’ll win in court, that might have an impact on NVHH’s ability to gain one of Chico’s two dispensary spots. In the coming months, the City Council is expected to give final approval to an ordinance allowing two dispensaries within city limits. The timing might be all wrong for Galia, who’s been working hard toward opening one of them.

“I would imagine if we get charged it would really hurt our chances,” he said.

Candell remained optimistic.

“If one person has pending criminal charges, it might make it so that individual can’t have a management position, but it shouldn’t affect whether that collective has a permit or not.”

While charges have not yet been filed against any other collective raided last summer, Harberts did mention that computer searches yielded a few surprising finds unrelated to marijuana. Two computers had child pornography on them, she said. One of them was particularly disturbing and has been sent to the FBI. The owner of that computer, linked to California Harm Reduction Cooperative (the CN&R is withholding the name, pending charges), “is in a world of hurt,” Harberts said. “But frankly, the children in those photographs are in a world of hurt, too.”