The owners of The Healing Center, which claimed to be a medical marijuana storefront dispensary, have been convicted of possessing marijuana for sale, and cultivating and selling marijuana, District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.
In 2010, Santa Barbara narcotics detectives investigated and raided four dispensaries in the city: The Healing Center, Humanity, Hortipharm and the Pacific Coast Collective. The investigations were initiated after a traffic stop involving Glen Mowrer III, who allegedly had more than 20 pounds of pot in his car. He told police he sold it to The Healing Center and other dispensaries.
The Healing Center, on San Andres Street, closed down when the owners were arrested in February 2010. They later reopened the business and were arrested again in June and October of that year, each time for possessing marijuana for sale and selling marijuana.
Juan Solis, Sintia Martinez and Jose Lopez were all found guilty by Judge Frank Ochoa on Monday, though the day of trial was a month ago, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Lee Carter.
Since both sides agreed to all the facts of the case, there was no jury. Instead, Ochoa took a few weeks to consider the facts and found the three owners and operators guilty.
Carter said the judge’s finding centered on the for-profit nature of the business. It’s legal for qualified patients to use, grow or acquire medical marijuana, he said, but no laws allow for the sale of marijuana. They had a grow site and bought marijuana from vendors, who didn’t usually give their real names, and Solis told police he made $80,000 the previous year.
The defendants argued they could sell marijuana to their members, but their profits from distribution make the operation illegal, Carter said. Solis’ attorney said members “pooled money” to collectively grow marijuana, but there is no evidence showing that money paid for the set prices ever went into collective cultivation, according to court documents.
There have been arguments for storefront collectives, as long as the owners only recoup their expenses, Carter said, but there’s no provision for anyone to be compensated.
“They didn’t claim to be primary caregivers — they were selling and paying themselves,” he said.
As the judge wrote, “Monetary reimbursement that members provide to the collective or cooperative is limited to an amount necessary to cover overhead costs and overhead expenses. Defendants have provided no evidence of actual overhead costs or expenses that had to be reimbursed. Rather, the reimbursement amount, or, as Solis described it, pricing was simply double the amount paid for marijuana.”
The three owners have already served jail time and are on probation, and have been told to stay out of the business. Of course, they were told the same thing after their first two arrests, only to open up the dispensary after each one.
Several other dispensary-related cases are going through the court system, and the local precedent could have implications for existing, open dispensaries.
Santa Barbara’s ordinance requires a permit that is conditional on the establishment complying with state laws. While creating the ordinance, the city struggled with the distinction between legal and illegal dispensaries. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided to ban them for that reason.
“It makes absolutely no sense with this many conflicts of laws to try and zone something,” board Chairwoman Joni Gray said.
Before the November 2010 election, the District Attorney’s Office and City of Santa Barbara delayed court cases and permit applications for dispensaries. Once the status quo was upheld with the rejection of Proposition 19 and Measure T, the city’s proposed ban, everything started up again.
Hortipharm’s Joshua Braun agreed to a plea deal and pleaded no contest in October to selling marijuana and money laundering in exchange for his wife being cleared of charges and lowered penalties for his employees.
Pacific Coast Collective owner Jeffrey Restivo is still awaiting trial on charges of felony cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana. His establishment is the only one implicated in a criminal trial that has a city permit.