Pubdate: Thu, 23 Feb 2012
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Times-Herald
Authors: Tony Burchyns and Jessica A. York, Times-Herald Staff Writers


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

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

"In my view it is just an intimidation tactic they are using,"
Thurston said. "What (cannabis clubs) are doing is legal under state

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

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

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." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.