Pubdate: Thu, 23 Feb 2012 Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA) Copyright: 2012 The Times-Herald Contact: http://www.timesheraldonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/993 Authors: Tony Burchyns and Jessica A. York, Times-Herald Staff Writers POT DISPENSARY RAID RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT TIMING Months before Vallejo voters overwhelmingly approved taxing pot dispensaries as a first step toward regulating them, the police department set a chain of events in motion that would lead to a raid Tuesday of one of the city's most prominent clubs. Vallejo police Lt. Ken Weaver said Wednesday that Chief Robert Nichelini reached out to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration late last summer for help in going after a local dispensary. Nichelini had deferred all comment to Weaver, calling him the "point of contact" in the case. Weaver said the department provided information to the DEA about police calls in connection with "a couple of clubs," including the 2-year-old Greenwell Cooperative at 616 Marin St. Greenwell's operator, Matt Shotwell, 31, was the only person arrested in Tuesday's joint-agency raid. Weaver said the DEA made the final choice of which club to target. Shotwell told the Times-Herald on Wednesday that he was "heartbroken" over his arrest, and charged that the city "had sold me out." Weaver did not say if other raids are planned. He also would not say why the DEA chose Greenwell. He denied, however, any connection between the timing of Tuesday's raid and the city's impending implementation of a voter-approved tax on pot club sales to help fund city services. Shotwell backed the measure. Voters overwhelmingly passed Measure C in November. It was promoted in a ballot argument as "the first necessary step in taxing and regulating these businesses." The argument was signed by council women Marti Brown and Stephanie Gomes and former councilwoman Joanne Schivley. As for the raid's timing, Weaver said, "The investigation came to a point where we needed to get search warrants to look for further evidence of cultivation or sales of marijuana. We served the warrant and we found the evidence we were looking for." That evidence included more than 800 marijuana plants at the dispensary and at an associated Napa Street grow house tied to Shotwell. Shotwell was arrested on suspicion of cultivating, selling, possessing and operation of a location that supplies marijuana, police said. He founded the 9,000-member collective in January 2010. Shotwell posted $100,000 bond early Wednesday, but police rearrested him hours later and returned to Solano County Jail. Weaver said a law enforcement clerical error had led to Shotwell being released without a hearing to determine if his bail money was clean. That hearing will be held today in Solano County Superior Court, Shotwell's attorney Natalia E. Thurston said. Solano County Deputy District Attorney Courtney Anderson said she is reviewing the investigative reports before deciding which charges to bring. Thurston, meanwhile, said she is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against the raiding agencies. "I don't know if the city is aware of this but under California state law if you illegally raid a legal operation and seize and destroy cannabis ... the state can then become liable for the value of the cannabis seized," Thurston said. "So they are going to get their own summons in the mail." Thurston said her first priority is the pending criminal charges. "In my view it is just an intimidation tactic they are using," Thurston said. "What (cannabis clubs) are doing is legal under state law." District Attorney Don du Bain, however, disagrees. Two other cases are pending in Solano County Superior Court involving dispensaries charged with state drug felonies. "State law on possession, cultivation, transportation provide only a limited defense for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers," du Bain told the Times-Herald. "Medical marijuana can only be grown for personal use by patients, based on our interpretation of the court cases." Vallejo recently secured a settlement agreement to permanently close one other dispensaries, Stan the Man Collective, after earlier winning a temporary injunction. While the state's rules for medical marijuana are evolving through the courts, federal law still classifies the possession and sale of marijuana as a serious offense. In a Times-Herald interview before his second arrest Wednesday, Shotwell criticized the city for seemingly sending mixed messages about medical marijuana. The council majority, and voters, seem to favor moving toward taxation and pot club regulation, but elected officials also have devoted city resources to cracking down on dispensaries, which the city and the courts say violate zoning laws, he said. Shotwell, who donated his attorney's services to help the three council members craft the Measure C ballot argument, expressed concern that policy makers and city officials are not on the same page. "I am disappointed and I am heartbroken," Shotwell said during the interview at his now-closed dispensary. "I feel like my city sold me out." As for the voters who passed the measure, "They all got punked, too," Shotwell said. "The city is going against what the people want," added Shotwell, who vowed to fight the pending charges. "And history has shown ... that is not a sustainable model for staying in office." At least one council member, Brown, has criticized the move against Greenwell. "I'm annoyed," Brown said after the raid. "The DEA and the state government should just stay out of things." California Board of Equalization agents also assisted in the raid, but would not comment. City officials and other council members disagree, saying the raid is consistent with the city's approach to the dispensary issue. "The council indicated a desire to deal with all of the illegal medical marijuana dispensaries in the city and every one of them is in fact illegal in light of the fact that there's no zoning that allows them in any part of the city," Mayor Osby Davis said Wednesday. Davis opposed Measure C. Acting City Manager Craig Whittom agreed, saying the raid is "consistent with the city's general objective to pursue criminal activity and it is not inconsistent with the city's approach to medical marijuana." Asked how Greenwell's and other dispensaries' potential closures could affect tax collection, Whittom conceded that fewer dispensaries will likely mean less tax revenue. However, Whittom said he did not believe the city's five-year budget plan included any speculative revenue from the tax. The measure requires all medical marijuana businesses to pay a $500 business license tax plus a monthly tax of up to 10 percent of gross receipts. City officials expect it to generate between $360,000 and $540,000 this year for services such as public safety, libraries, senior and youth programs and improving streets. "The initiative that was passed by the voters did not specifically legalize dispensaries," Whittom said. "It simply said that if activity was occurring in the community, they should be taxed." Councilwoman Erin Hannigan said she does not believe the law enforcement action runs contrary to city plans to begin taxing sales of Vallejo dispensaries starting March 1, nor stall plans to regulate dispensary operations. "I hope this is a message to MMDs (medical marijuana dispensaries) that you are not operating under the radar," Hannigan said. "A hammer can come down on you at any time." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.