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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:53 pm | Fair 50º


Marijuana Dispensary Owner Takes the Stand in His Defense

Charles Restivo testifies about operations and suppliers for his Pacific Coast Collective

Pacific Coast Collective owner Charles Restivo took the stand Wednesday at his preliminary hearing and said he had made every attempt to follow the rules in the operation of his medical marijuana dispensary.

It was day three of the preliminary hearing for felony counts of cultivation and possession for sale, which could yield a three-year state prison sentence if it goes to trial and Restivo is found guilty.

Charles Jeffrey Restivo
Charles Jeffrey Restivo

The dispensary is the first of three to be permitted for operation by the City of Santa Barbara, which gives no legal protection as it is a zoning ordinance and mandates that participants abide by state laws.

Restivo was arrested in connection with a search warrant issued to four local dispensaries and residences after Glen Mowrer III was found in possession of 100 pounds or so of marijuana, converted forms including oils and a conversion lab in his mother’s garage. Mowrer told authorities he sold the converted forms to local dispensaries.

This week’s testimony and questioning focused on the “gray area” of who supplies the dispensary’s marijuana, as Restivo said. Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota pressed Restivo on the establishment’s ability — or efforts — to verify its vendors as the growers in order to comply with Attorney General guidelines.

The city permit process concentrated on the location and operational plan of applicants in order to avoid neighborhood nuisances, senior planner Danny Kato said. Kato was heavily involved in drafting both the original ordinance, which was in effect when Restivo was arrested in February, and the current ordinance, which went into effect this summer.

The permits were based on what the applicants stated they would do, but didn’t do follow-up negotiations, he said when questioned by Cota.

While all vendors were required to have verified doctor’s recommendations and become members of the collective, there was no guaranteed way to check whether the sellers were indeed the growers, Restivo said during testimony. It was taken on “good faith,” he said, and his defense attorney, Allison Margolin, argued that there was no way to definitively prove the sellers were the growers without site checks, which aren’t required by law.

Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420 are state legislation governing medical marijuana, but the vagueness of implementing these laws led Attorney General Jerry Brown to issue guidelines that narrowed the focus a bit.

“Reasonable compensation” is another questionable area, as dispensaries are not legally allowed to make a profit, since sales of marijuana — even medical — are illegal. The attorney general’s guidelines state that recovering some costs for overhead — including, perhaps, some compensation — could be legal.

Restivo said he has knowledge of the laws through the guidelines, city documents relating to the permitting process and the forms involved in creating a mutual benefit corporation for the collective.

The lawyer he used to create the articles of incorporation and bylaws — Gene Takagi — testified Tuesday as to the kind of organization it was from a corporation standpoint. It was a nonprofit model with bylaws that governed its operations, and the three directors could meet to make decisions, he said. Besides Restivo, Hortipharm owner Joshua Braun — who is facing charges related to his own dispensary, including money laundering — and Anthony Arria were directors of the organization.

Braun’s dispensary caused Cota to scrutinize the relationship between the two collectives, since Braun had sold marijuana to Pacific Coast Collective (and was entered in the sales notebook as “Horti”) but was not listed as a member in its computer database.

Braun “provided us with extra product” and helped the organization become sustainable, Restivo said.

He also said the shop was more of a collective organization than a collective cultivation, as different people provided different assets. While they weren’t all out in a garden growing together, some provided the labor and others provided the money, Restivo said.

Three of the dispensary’s employees were arrested and questioned in connection with this case and told authorities that the vendors had to be members of the collective in order to sell their product. If the vendors were not yet members, they’d be signed up and purchased from on the spot, according to Hill’s testimony.

All three of them were told that “for their truthful statements” about the inner workings of the dispensary, perhaps even at trial if necessary, that their cases would be dismissed, Cota said.

Cota played multiple tapes of interviews between Restivo and Santa Barbara Police Department Detective Shawn Hill, but there was some discrepancy over when Restivo was arrested and whether he was aware of it.

After talking to Hill in the morning, Restivo was placed in handcuffs and taken to the police station, where he waited in a cell for about four hours, according to testimony. Though Hill says Restivo was told of his arrest before being transported, Restivo says he was told it was “procedure” and thought he was aiding an investigation that didn’t necessarily include him as a suspect.

“I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide,” he said, referring to why he was talking freely with Hill. “I didn’t think I’d be in trouble for anything I said.”

Hill was heard telling Restivo, “You’re a good guy, I can tell” on the taped interviews as they talked about the dispensary’s operations.

Restivo was given the Miranda warnings before the first interview at his home and reminded of them at the police station, but he said he wasn’t aware he was arrested until he asked Hill directly.

The defense’s last witness was William Britt, an expert witness who is the executive director of the Association for Patient Advocates of Medical Marijuana, who testified about patients being members of multiple dispensaries. Britt had polio and scoliosis when he was younger, and was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was a teenager.

Testimony ended Wednesday afternoon, and the attorneys will present their arguments to Judge Clifford Anderson on Thursday morning.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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