Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jun 2016
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


The Wednesday police raid that halted production of a popular line of 
cannabis oil-infused products made in Santa Rosa - and widely 
distributed throughout California - has revealed the deep political 
connections of a homegrown collective and raised questions about the 
safety of marijuana extraction methods.

At least 150 medical marijuana patients, activists and supporters of 
the CBD Guild collective filled the steps outside the Sonoma County 
Superior Courthouse on Thursday. They demanded an end of 
criminalization of the medical marijuana industry.

 From the steps, Santa Rosa attorney Joe Rogoway, who represents the 
guild, said the group was "trying to be a model for the industry," 
which is gaining more legitimacy as the state has begun building a 
regulatory structure for businesses, nearly two decades after voters 
legalized marijuana as medicine.

"Sonoma County is at the vanguard of all the good things the cannabis 
industry represents," Rogoway said.

But even as the crowd applauded the North Coast's prominence in the 
medical marijuana field, Santa Rosa police officials continued 
analyzing a trove of seized equipment, computers and products from 
several properties affiliated with the CBD Guild and its product 
lines - Absolute Xtracts and Care By Design.

Narcotics Sgt. Rich Celli said the investigation started five days 
ago with a tip that the conditions for the group's workers were not 
safe at a Circadian Way laboratory. Describing the guild's business 
as "massive," Celli said police believe it was bringing in "millions 
of dollars monthly." He said police seized "hundreds of thousands of 
dollars in cash."

"When you're looking at the manufacturing part of it, how it's being 
done, we believe (it) is illegal," Celli said. "Many people believe 
the law is in flux - it's not, don't do it."

Rogoway and guild spokesman Nick Caston disputed Celli's contention 
that high-pressured carbon dioxide compressors used by the company 
are dangerous.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch issued a statement 
Thursday reaffirming her support for the use and production of 
medical cannabis, but said her office was working with law 
enforcement to determine whether the working conditions and hazardous 
materials procedures at the guild's facility violated any laws.

"My focus at this time is to determine whether any laws have been 
violated which would endanger public safety or the environment," her 
statement said.

The CBD Guild is a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit producing popular 
brands of products including Care By Design cannabinoid gel caps and 
Absolute Xtracts' cannabis oil vape pen cartridges.

The organization has significant brand recognition statewide and the 
financial clout to retain veteran local political lobbyist Herb 
Williams. Williams said guild representatives asked him to work for 
them last year, after the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act 
was signed into law in October.

Williams defended the group's practices and said he had a private 
investigator review the organization and its leaders before agreeing 
to work with them.

"The guild was manufacturing under that law passed by the voters of 
this state, and we have thousands of patients to validate that," Williams said.

He said it's his first client involved with marijuana. He is familiar 
with the medical cannabis field because he's used it for four years 
to help treat arthritis.

"I was using their products before I met them (and) didn't know who 
they were," Williams said.

Williams said he was in the car Wednesday morning when he received 
word police were raiding the Circadian Way laboratory. He headed 
straight to the facility.

The law enforcement action "was a surprise to all of us," he said.

"I think (CBD Guild is) setting the standards for the industry and 
I'm glad to be part of it," Williams said.

The raid came as the city is poised to establish an ordinance 
permitting certain kinds of concentrated cannabis oil manufacturing.

The city council's medical marijuana policy subcommittee is expected 
later this month to review a draft ordinance put together by the 
planning department, said City Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, who is on 
the subcommittee.

Carlstrom said the city could have an ordinance allowing certain 
kinds of concentrated cannabis manufacturing by the end of summer. 
She said the subcommittee is still waiting to learn more about carbon 
dioxide extraction methods to decide whether they will be allowed 
under the ordinance. Carlstrom noted the council, which includes two 
retired Santa Rosa police officers, voted unanimously to support the 
inclusion of manufacturing in their zoning policies.

Carlstrom is on the subcommittee with fellow council members Gary 
Wysocky and Ernesto Olivares, but her connections to the industry run 
deeper. She works for Rogoway's firm and was, until last year, 
married to Nick Caston, a spokesman for the CBD Guild.

When asked if the raid would have taken place if the city had already 
adopted a cannabis manufacturing ordinance, Carlstrom said, "To be 
honest I can't speak to that.

"I think that in another six weeks this would be a very different 
conversation. But that's not the conversation we can have right now. 
What the city is trying to do is create predictable and clear rules 
for these businesses to follow," she said.

The only person arrested during the raids was Dennis Franklin Hunter, 
43, of Rohnert Park - described by a guild spokesman as the 
mastermind behind innovative products and described by police as the 
primary suspect in what is under investigation as an illegal cannabis oil lab.

Hunter has a criminal history that includes serving a federal prison 
sentence given in 2005 for cultivating a 12,000-plant pot farm in 
Humboldt County and a more recent case involving U.S. Homeland 
Security investigation into drugs on a private plane.

Hunter - whose bail was set at $5 million because he has fled law 
enforcement in the past - was scheduled to appear in court Friday to 
be arraigned on a single felony charge of manufacturing a controlled 
substance by chemical extraction or synthesis. By late Thursday night 
he had been released.

Medical marijuana advocates at Thursday's rally said they would 
attend Hunter's arraignment.

Thursday's crowd included well known figures among North Coast 
marijuana growers associations and patient advocate groups.

Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers 
Alliance, led the rally, calling for an end to marijuana prohibition 
and a stop to the criminalization of the people trying to work within 
California's medical marijuana laws.

People carried signs with slogans including "We are patients, not 
criminals" and chanted "Free Dennis Hunter."

Martin Lee, with a Sonoma County organization called Project CBD, 
told the crowd the law enforcement action against Hunter and his 
company was "attacking the entire community of patients."

"What has happened within the last 24 hours is devastating," Lee said.

Sarah Shrader with Americans for Safe Access' Sonoma County chapter 
said she was disappointed potential civil code violations at the 
business were being used to criminalize a business trying to lawfully 
make medicine.

"It's time to stop raiding our providers and hurting our patients," 
Shrader said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom