Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 10:07 pm | Fair 63º


Local News

Owners of The Healing Center Dispensary Convicted of Marijuana Charges

Judge rules that the for-profit nature of the business made it illegal

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.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >