Pubdate: Thu, 04 Oct 2012
Source: Phoenix New Times (AZ)
Copyright: 2012 New Times, Inc.
Author: Ray Stern


Chris Martin had an idea for a business in Arizona, where voters
passed a law that legalizes medical-marijuana "edibles" under certain

Last year, the Zonka Bar was born, available in flavors including
chocolate and sugar-free peanut butter and infused with marijuana
extract. Like other edibles, it was perfect for a medical-marijuana
patient who didn't want to smoke, and it's less harmful than a
four-pack of wine coolers.

But Martin and his associates didn't follow the rules under the 2010
law, authorities say.

Had they contracted with a so-far-nonexistent state-authorized
dispensary to distribute Zonka Bars, their actions would have been

Instead, these entrepreneurs face multiple felony charges and the
possibility of years in prison.

In seemingly schizophrenic Arizona, 841,346 voters passed a liberal
law that legalizes marijuana for those with certain medical ailments,
but the state is governed by rabid conservatives who are some of the
law's most vocal opponents.

Local cops could be taking a different approach to this very political
issue. They could use reasonable discretion, but they've chosen to
side with the prohibitionists.

State law is part of the problem. Not the new law, but the old,
obsolete law - the one that says possession of a single grain of
marijuana is a felony and that selling, growing, or transporting
marijuana or the "narcotic" of "cannabis" are serious felonies. Cops
love making felony arrests - and usually it's a good thing. But not in
this case.

Police allege that Martin and his associates sold a product labeled as
medical marijuana to various "compassion clubs," which, in turn, sold
them to medical-marijuana patients.

Without a doubt, this has something do with the burgeoning medical-pot
industry authorized by the passage of Prop 203. Law enforcement
officials aren't seeing it that way, though.

A Yavapai County task force that calls itself PANT (Partners Against
Narcotics Trafficking) led a lengthy investigation into Zonka Bars. No
fewer than 100 law officers took part. A September 17 news release
from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office about the bust is titled:
"P.A.N.T. takes out Drug Sales Syndicate - Items Sold Included
Cannabis Candy and Treats."

Four people have been arrested so far: Christopher Lee Martin, 37, and
Andrea Lyn Martin, 33, of Prescott and Todd James, 40, and Christopher
Goodrich, 39, both of Phoenix. Others may be arrested or charged as
the investigation continues, cops say.

Raids took place on September 12 and 13 at a commercial kitchen; the
Joint ReLeaf Compassion Club, 3143 East Roosevelt; AZ CPC, 1833 East
Indian School Road; Green Cross, 1000 East Indian School Road, and the
home of James, all in Phoenix.

And in Prescott, raids occurred at The Green Cross, 919 12th Place,
#14, and Hippie Village Emporium, 635 Walnut Road.

Authorities seized 20 pounds of marijuana, "hundreds" of Zonka Bars
and other candy made by the company and about $70,000 in cash.
Numerous firearms also were recovered (though that would be the case
with a raid of many homes in Arizona).

Martin was the leader and master chef who created the line of candy
bars and other products, police point out.

Authorities say the investigation began with a tip to Silent Witness,
plus other citizen complaints.

But it's not like the Zonka company was skulking around a street
corner or attending meetings with Los Zetas. The company has been
advertising on the Internet since April. Its website still was up at
press time, advertising pot-infused candy bars, lollipops, and ice
cream. The site has rolling banners that warn against use by children
and recommend getting the advice of a doctor.

Martin and the others are not just charged with selling pot - they're
charged with selling a "narcotic." Arizona law has long defined
"cannabis" as the resin extracted from marijuana plants, and
"cannabis" is deemed a "narcotic" that merits higher penalties.

The 2010 law apparently nullifies that "narcotic" designation by
defining usable marijuana as the plant or "any mixture or preparation

But prosecutors allege that the Zonka folks were operating outside the
2010 law, and, therefore, the harsh "narcotics" designation applies.

Jack Fields, chief of the civil division of the Yavapai County
Attorney's Office, says he believes that, in general, distributing a
Zonka-like product to a state-authorized dispensary could be legal.

But it's the view of his office that no marijuana can be sold except
by dispensaries, which don't exist yet. Patients can exchange
marijuana among themselves under some of the law's rules, as long as
nothing of value is transferred. Registered caregivers can be
reimbursed by patients for some of their expenses. But Fields says
nothing in the 2010 law allows for compassion clubs, whose operators
claim they're giving away marijuana to dues-paying members.

Although all of Zonka "players" were either medical-marijuana patients
or caregivers, the law doesn't allow them to manufacture Zonka candies
and sell them wholesale to compassion clubs, Fields says.

The medical-marijuana law, he says, "in our view, calls out very
narrow exceptions."

In other words, Yavapai County expects those in the medical-marijuana
industry to walk a tightrope - and jail will be waiting if they fall.

Fields acknowledges that his boss, County Attorney Sheila Polk, "has
very strong opinions" about the medical-marijuana law.

That's for sure. Polk is one of the state's most vocal anti-marijuana
activists. Recently, she even stooped to putting out false propaganda
about a supposed plan by Arizona U.S. Attorney John Leonardo to shut
down dispensaries if they ever open. ("Polk's Letter Misstates AZ U.S.
Attorney's Position," July 31). Her bad info subsequently was picked
up and repeated by Sheriff Scott Mascher in his own letter to the governor.

In their letters, the Yavapai officials asked Jan Brewer to prevent
any dispensaries from opening. Brewer already has delayed the advent
of Arizona's pot shops for more than a year by ordering the rejection
of all dispensary applications. Brewer eventually was ordered by a
state judge to give voters what they wanted, and some dispensaries may
open this month.

But would-be pot-shop operators have been warned by state Attorney
General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, both
Republicans, that a judge could decide in a pending lawsuit that
federal law trumps the voter-approved medical-pot law. If that
happens, Montgomery said, he'll bust everyone he can - even
card-holding patients.

An affiliate with Green Cross, one of the targets in the PANT
investigation, says the state's "vendetta" against medical marijuana
"makes me want to vomit."

The affiliate didn't want to give his name, but he says he knows Chris
Martin and the others involved with Zonka personally.

"These are really nice people - they're not criminals," he says. "They
have been arrested for creating an edible line. The only drug they
were working with was marijuana."

Martin, president of a Prescott Valley motorcycle club that does
charity rides, has been in trouble before. A check of court records
turned up a conviction for growing pot and a 1996 arrest for criminal
damage and assaulting a peace officer.

Whatever Martin's background, he seems to have a head for

He just got busy too early.
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