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Medical marijuana cases in flux as suspects head to court

Medical marijuana advocate Linda Hill addresses a crowd of supporters outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Monterey Street. The group was protesting recent raids and arrests at medical marijuana collectives, many cars honked in support driving by.
Medical marijuana advocate Linda Hill addresses a crowd of supporters outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Monterey Street. The group was protesting recent raids and arrests at medical marijuana collectives, many cars honked in support driving by.

A boisterous group of about 60 protesters advocating for medical marijuana rights gathered outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Tuesday chanting for “safe access” and hoisting signs — including one that read, “It’s medical, not criminal.”

The protesters were calling for the dismissal of charges against a dozen people arrested in late December after an investigation by the county’s Narcotic Task Force into alleged mobile marijuana dispensaries.

Prosecutors have chosen not to file charges against three people because of insufficient evidence, but they’ve returned the cases to investigators for possible further work, according to Jerret Gran of the District Attorney’s Office.

The people who weren’t charged pending possible further investigation are Charles Tamagni and Rachel Tamagni, of Paso Robles, as well as Roy Allred of Atascadero.

Protesters said the 15 people arrested in the raids, including 12 San Luis Obispo County residents, were conducting lawful operations and that the authorities are wasting taxpayer money by arresting and prosecuting them.

“They were not selling drugs behind your junior high schools, and they weren’t strapped with guns or pushing cocaine,” said Richard Donald, chairman of the San Luis Obispo chapter of Americans for Safe Access. “The majority of these fathers, mothers and grandparents were following the attorney general’s guidelines to the letter, or at least, to the very best of their ability and understanding.”

Gran said prosecutors are looking at each case and evaluating them separately.

Pismo Beach resident Steven Gordon pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three counts of sale of marijuana, one count of possession of marijuana for sale and one count of child endangerment. Gordon’s next court date is a pre-preliminary hearing scheduled for Feb. 10.

Richard Jones of Tarzana pleaded not guilty to two counts of having marijuana for sale and one count of possession of marijuana for sale. Jones is scheduled for a pre-preliminary hearing Feb. 24.

The remaining suspects either entered not-guilty pleas or are awaiting arraignment — some of which are scheduled for this morning.

Legal interpretation

The legal argument likely will focus on whether collectives — which can operate as nonprofits under state law — can sell marijuana to their members or if they should be limited to requiring members to participate in cultivating.

The attorney general guidelines state that, once a collective is formed, members may reimburse it for marijuana allocated to them, but the reimbursement should only be enough to cover overhead costs and operating expenses.

Some of those arrested said they followed the attorney general guidelines, which were written to explain medical marijuana.

But Rodney John, commander of the county’s Narcotic Task Force, believes the guidelines are opinion, not California law, and that the law doesn’t state collectives or cooperatives can sell marijuana, he said.

The crowd of protesters encouraged motorists to honk in support of medical marijuana rights as they passed by. But when a San Luis Obispo Police Department patrol car passed by, the demonstrators jeered.

Linda Hill rallied protesters with a loud chant demanding “safe access” to medical marijuana.

“I call on our local government agencies and officials to finally recognize the rights of patients, and the inefficient use of money in this drug war,” Hill said.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said he’s working with District Attorney Gerald Shea and county legal counsel to gather information about medical marijuana law, and said he wants people who are trying to comply with Proposition 215 to have proper direction.

Proposition 215 exempts some patients and their primary caregivers from criminal prosecution for possessing and cultivating marijuana.

“We all know the law is poorly written,” Parkinson said. “Defining and providing proper direction is the big challenge.”

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