Pubdate: Sat, 22 Dec 2012
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Times-Herald
Author: Tony Burchyns


Following a favorable court ruling for a Vallejo dispensary on
Thursday, police and prosecutors said Friday they are weighing their
next steps.

The ruling dismissed charges against the Better Health Group's
operators, who had been charged with illegally selling marijuana. The
case stemmed from a Vallejo police crackdown on several storefront
collectives earlier this year.

"We do not feel that this ruling was an open invitation for people to
set up marijuana shops in Vallejo," police Lt. Lee Horton said Friday.
"On the contrary, we feel that this case will be part of the overall
effort to set clear guidelines and boundaries moving forward in how we
deal with this issue.

"As we do not feel that marijuana use is a healthy part of our
community, we will continue to respond to complaints of illegal
activity," Horton added.

The ruling by retired Solano County Superior Court Judge William
Harrison followed a preliminary hearing held Wednesday at the Vallejo
courthouse. Harrison said that while not everyone sees eye to eye on
the law, dispensaries that comply with the Compassionate Use Act of
1996 and the Medical Marijuana Program Act are allowed to operate.

As a state court judge, Harrison's ruling does not apply to federal
law, which prohibits any marijuana possession and sale.

Afterward, defense attorney Scot Candell, who represented dispensary
founder Jorge Espinoza, said his client felt "vindicated." Candell
also said they will petition the court for the return of more than
$20,000 cash, numerous pounds of marijuana and other property seized
by police.

Solano County District Attorney Don du Bain told the Times-Herald on
Friday that although he thinks Harrison is an "experienced and
reputable" judge, his office will review the ruling to determine
whether to file an appeal.

"I can't say how this ruling will or will not affect future
prosecutions at this point," du Bain said. "I don't think this
particular ruling will have an effect on other pending cases. However,
we are always reviewing the state of the case law and if the judge has
reached a ruling that is well founded in the current case law, that is
going to catch our attention and cause us to re-evaluate our other
pending cases.

"We just haven't completed our own internal review of his ruling yet
to make any interpretation as to whether his ruling was correct in our
view," du Bain added.

The collective, which operated at 3611 Sonoma Blvd., was one of
several dispensaries police raided this year. The busts have been a
factor in reducing the number of Vallejo storefront collectives from
more than 20 to less than 10.

Only five dispensaries are paying the city's 2011 voter-approved tax
on marijuana stores, according to the city's most recent tax invoices.
Matt Shotwell, the founder of Greenwell, who was arrested and charged
with illegally selling marijuana after his dispensary was raided in
February, said he thinks Harrison's ruling could affect his and other
pending cases.

"I commend the judge for not wasting everybody's time," Shotwell said.
"They are all going to be dropped because nobody is guilty of doing

Another Vallejo dispensary operator, who asked to remain anonymous on
advice from her attorney, said she thinks the ruling is a sign of
shifting public and legal opinions on the issue." I am hoping they
will keep the responsible dispensaries and keep enforcement on the
irresponsible ones," she said. "It was just unfortunate that Better
Health Group had to be the test case." 
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