Pubdate: Thu, 21 Jul 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: John Geluardi
Note: John Geluardi is the author of Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of 
the Medical Marijuana Industry.


In states that have legalized the sale of medical and recreational 
cannabis, the industry is flourishing. State and local laws have done 
great work in creating policies and laws that give such businesses a 
sense of stability that allow them to make business decisions with 
some confidence. But federal laws still regard cannabis as a Schedule 
1 narcotic and have not only closed access to reliable banking, the 
U.S. Postal Service, and fair tax laws, but there is also the 
constant threat of law enforcement raids, lengthy and expensive court 
battles, and prison sentences.

Even in states that have legalized cannabis, federal law has created 
a climate of fear and uncertainty among cannabis entrepreneurs, and 
some politicians and law enforcement officers are exploiting that 
fear to enrich themselves. There are numerous examples of this type 
of corruption. In fact, The Daily Chronic, an online news source that 
covers the cannabis community, has a pages-long section devoted to 
cannabis-related police corruption nationwide

That's one reason why it is critically important that the conflicts 
between state and federal marijuana laws are resolved as soon as possible.

In California, where medical cannabis is a multibillion industry, 
there are numerous incidents of public pot corruption that have been 
exposed, which suggests a great deal more remains in the shadows. 
Recent examples include the embarrassing arrest of Sheriff's Deputy 
Mark Heath, with the Yuba County Drug Task Force. Heath was busted in 
Pennsylvania with 200 pounds of cannabis, worth approximately $2 
million. The Yuba County District Attorney's Office is now reviewing 
62 drug cases in which Heath was instrumental in obtaining 
convictions. The review will be very costly to taxpayers and further 
strain an office that is already short-staffed. And the review could 
result in the release of dozens of convicted felons, some of whom 
have records of violent offenses.

In 2015, two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, Julio Cesar 
Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged with 
obstructing justice and altering evidence when it was discovered they 
had planted guns and ecstasy pills in order to justify a raid on the 
Superior Herbal Health dispensary in South L.A. A video surveillance 
system caught the two deputies planting guns and ecstasy tablets in 
order to justify the warrantless 2011 raid. Again, the two deputies' 
corruption had a ripple effect by putting any drug busts that 
resulted in convictions in jeopardy, embarrassing the DA's Office and 
harming its ability to prosecute more serious cases, and causing an 
overall loss of faith in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.

Perhaps the worst incident of corruption and abuse of power was the 
2015 raid on Sky High Holistic in Santa Ana. Numerous Santa Ana 
police officers, some wearing ski masks, smashed in a door at the 
dispensary and then stormed in with automatic weapons drawn.

One of the officers smashed five video cameras, though he missed four 
others that recorded the ugly scene.

According to a federal lawsuit, the police did more than $100,000 in 
damage to dispensary property.

There were several patients in the dispensary and all were made to 
lay on the ground at gunpoint.

One dispensary volunteer, Marla James, an amputee who uses a 
wheelchair, was escorted out and later disparaged by officers.

"Did you punch that one-legged old Benita," a male officer asks a 
female officer in a video of the raid. She responds by saying, "I was 
about to kick her in her fucking nub."

Once the officers believe they are not being surveilled, they relax 
and begin playing darts and eating what looks like cannabis-infused 
baked goods.

One officer joked that he was feeling "light headed." The Santa Ana 
district attorney claimed they were eating Detour Simple protein bars 
and Mrs. Thinster cookies that belonged to the dispensary staff.

But the outrageous behavior did not end there.

In a federal lawsuit filed in 2015, Sky High Holistic alleges that 
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido solicited $25,000 in bribes from 
medical marijuana dispensaries for favorable positioning in a lottery 
that would award licenses for 20 dispensaries. The suit also alleges 
Pulido conspired to sponsor a measure that gave him more authority 
over the city's dispensaries, which in turn strengthened his ability 
to extort bribes. Furthermore, the complaint claims Pulido has an 
interest in one of the dispensaries that won the lottery, which 
further draws into question his role in the Sky High Holistic raid.

"There's no doubt that the conflict between federal and state law is 
the reason there's public corruption in the medical marijuana 
industry," said Matthew Papa, the attorney for Sky High Holistic who 
filed the suit. "It creates an environment where police and city 
officials can engage in conduct that's illegal.

It's absurd.

And it's not just what you see in the newspapers; it happens all over 
Southern California."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom