April 6, 2014

Police Seize Over $2.6 Million in Marijuana Plants in Recent Bust

Earlier this month in Los Banos, California, police executed four search warrants based on their determination that probable cause existed to find illegal grow operations. Police do not believe that the operations were related. Upon executing the warrants, police confiscated approximately $2.6 million dollars worth of marijuana plants and arrested two people. Police are currently looking for several others that they believe are involved in the illegal grow operations. In all, police seized 1056 marijuana plants across the four grow operations.

feel-the-power-984652-m.jpgAccording to a report by the Los Banos Enterprise, police described the grow houses as "sophisticated operations," noting that in each case they were stealing electricity. In one case, the operation was using so much electricity that the electrical wires leading into the home were beginning to melt. Those who were arrested, as well as those who now have outstanding warrants out for their arrest, will all face charges of cultivating and possession of marijuana and stealing electricity.

Obtaining a Search Warrant to Investigate Sonoma County Grow Operations

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents police from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Before police are constitutionally permitted to search a person's home, they need to secure a warrant from a judge first. In order to obtain a warrant, the officer needs to convince the judge that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is being, or was, committed.

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March 29, 2014

Three-Month Long Investigation Leads to Big Marijuana Bust in Sonoma and Napa Counties

After a three-month long investigation, police last week busted a multi-location marijuana grow operation seizing over 370 plants, 26 pounds of marijuana, ammunition, evidence of sales, and over $7,000 in cash. The investigation led to the arrest of a Windsor couple who had been running a marijuana grow operation in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Arrest warrants were issued for two other individuals who were not brought in at the time. Police believe that these two were responsible for caring for the couple's indoor garden.

ag01-d09-173436-m.jpgAccording to a report by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, police originally received a tip back in January. After three months of investigating, police were led to the couple's elaborate grow operations in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. The couple that was arrested each posted $50,000 bail.

Marijuana Arrests in Sonoma County

The above is just another example of how California laws are not as friendly towards marijuana users and growers as many think. Although the attitude in California towards marijuana is lax compared to many other states, the drug is still far from legal.

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February 28, 2014

New Federal Guidance for Banks Encourages them To Accept Marijuana Businesses

While marijuana has been de-criminalized across California, possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana is still against federal laws. This prohibition has put business owners who are conducting legitimate business operations under California state law in a difficult financial position: Where do they store the money they make from an activity that is legal in their state, but illegal according to the federal government? To make the matter even more challenging, banks are regulated by federal law, meaning that banks face racketeering charges if they accept deposits from people in the marijuana business.

1-1223098-m.jpgA recent article by the Associated Press explains that the Feds have come up with some guidance for banks that will allow them, and even encourage them, to accept deposits from marijuana-based businesses.

The New Federal Marijuana Banking Guidance

The guidance is essentially a warning to banks to conduct business at their own risk, but establishes a series of "red flags" that, presumably, if the banks avoid will keep the banks out of trouble. For example, a few of the red flags listed are:

  • A business' deposits are much greater than its competitors;
  • The business is bringing in an inordinate amount of cash that is disproportionate to the amount claimed on the business' tax forms;
  • The business is engaging in international business;
  • The business experiences a surge in activity by third parties offering goods or services such as equipment suppliers or shipping services.

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February 27, 2014

Police Raid Several Homes, Seizing Over 350 Marijuana Plants

Last month in nearby Lake County, police cracked down on marijuana growers, seizing over 300 plants in a number of coordinated raids. According to a report by the Press Democrat, the busts started at a home on Bel Air East Drive in Kelseyville where police found over 150 plants, indoor growing lights, and several pounds of marijuana.

marijuana-plant-52691-m.jpgThe occupant of the house fled when police showed up, leading them on a brief chase. Once police caught up with the suspect and arrested him, he explained that the plants were for medical use. However, the number of plants greatly exceeded the lawful amount for growing medical marijuana in Lake County.

When police searched the man they found evidence on him that led them to another home in Clearlake. Police then secured a warrant to search that home. Upon searching it they did not find a marijuana growing operation, but did find utility bills for two other houses in the area. When police searched those homes they found additional growing operations. A total of 368 plants were seized in a matter of days.

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February 7, 2014

Santa Rosa Relaxes Rules on Marijuana Dispensaries

Earlier this year, the City of Santa Rosa decided to ease up on medical marijuana dispensary owners and revamp some of the laws regulating the business owners. According to a report by the Press Democrat, prior to the new regulations, medical marijuana dispensaries could only have up to 500 patients. This required many Santa Rosa residents to travel outside the city to purchase their medical marijuana. This has caused a major inconvenience for patients and a substantial loss of tax revenue for the City.

flowering-cannabis-plants---hydroponics-indoors-1431036-m.jpgThe new regulations, which went into effect in the beginning of January, lifted the 500-patient ban. The City retains the right to implement a new patient limit in the future, should the current regulations lead to trouble. In addition, the new regulations eased up on dispensaries in several other ways:

  • Hours of Operation: Previously, medical marijuana dispensaries were regulated in what hours they could be open. Under the new regulations, dispensaries can remain open between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week.
  • On-the-Job Consumption: Under the old laws, dispensary workers were not allowed to use marijuana while on the job. However, the newly enacted regulations allow ingestion and the use of a vaporizor. Smoking marijuana will still be prohibited.
  • Sale of Paraphernalia: Previously, dispensaries could only sell the plant, not the numerous devices used to smoke, or otherwise use, marijuana. Under the new regulations dispensaries will be able to dedicate up to 150 square feet of space to the sale of devices used to consume marijuana.
  • Signage: Dispensaries will be able to display larger signs under the new set of regulations; however, the dispensaries will still not be permitted to put images on the sign that indicate what they sell.

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January 22, 2014

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in California

While the recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in California, it may not be all that long until that changes. It seems like every election cycle there is a bill that would make marijuana legal, and it is probably just a matter of time until one of those bills passes and becomes the law of California. However, even if marijuana is legal, driving under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal.

`smoke-1414954-m.jpgDUI and Marijuana

It is currently illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. In most alcohol driving under the influence (DUI) cases, the prosecution uses a fairly straightforward test to determine if the driver was legally intoxicated: if the driver's blood- or breath-alcohol content (BAC) was .08 or greater, they were intoxicated. However, unlike alcohol, it is not always easy to determine when someone last smoked or consumed marijuana. For this reason, the marijuana DUI law use is more subjective than the alcohol DUI law.

In order to be convicted of a DUI offense in California for driving under the influence of marijuana, it must be proven that the driver did not have the "ability to drive with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances."

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January 9, 2014

Several Teens Arrested in Santa Rosa Hotel Room for Alcohol and Marijuana Possession

Just before the New Year, a group of teens were caught in a local Santa Rosa hotel room with alcohol and marijuana. According to a report by the Press Democrat, the police were called to the Economy Inn at around 6 a.m. and notified that there were several minors alone in a room with drugs, alcohol, and guns. When police arrived and knocked on the door, several of the teens attempted to escape through a back window.

hydroponic-cannabis-seedlings-1423206-m.jpgIn all, five teenagers were arrested for marijuana and alcohol offenses. One of the teens was found with a bag of marijuana. He will face possession of marijuana charges. Two of the teens were on probation for prior offenses. All involved were released to their parents later in the day. Apparently, an adult had rented the room for the teens, but was not present when police showed up.

The Legality of Marijuana in California

It is always illegal for a minor to possess any drug, including marijuana, in the State of California. However, even for adults, marijuana possession, distribution, and cultivation is still illegal in California. While it is true that the attitude towards marijuana has been slowly relaxing in California, the drug is not yet legal to possess. Depending on the amount possessed, and whether the marijuana was being transported or sold, depends on how severe the penalty will be. Below is a list of California possession of marijuana penalties:

  • Less than one ounce: $100 fine.
  • More than one ounce: $500 and up to 6 months in county jail.
  • Transportation of less than on ounce: $100.
  • Selling: Up to 4 years in prison and registration as a narcotics offender.
  • Cultivation: Up to 3 years in prison.

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December 27, 2013

The Importance of Making Evidentiary Objections when they Arise at Trial

The California Court of Appeals for the Second District, Division Six, recently made a decision that could have a serious impact on the way that mentally disordered offender (MDO) decisions are reached.gavel4.jpg

In the case, People v. Stevens, 213 Cal. App. 4th 1401 (2013), the defendant was determined to be an MDO based on a clinical psychologist's expert testimony for the state. The defendant appealed the trial court's determination challenging the fact that the psychologist's determination was based on statements from third parties, and thus was based upon inadmissible hearsay evidence. He further argued that petty theft was not a commitment worthy offense.

During trial, the district attorney asked the psychologist whether the defendant presented a danger of physical harm to others. The psychologist relayed that the defendant, when approached about items that he was attempting to take without paying, had threatened to assault and kill the loss prevention agents and allegedly attempted to push a cart into one of them. The basis for the testimony was a probation report.

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December 2, 2013

California Court of Appeals Affirms County's Right to Regulate Cultivation of Marijuana under Compassionate Use Act

The Third District California Court of Appeals issued an instructive opinion regarding a county's right to regulate the cultivation of marijuana.

In the case, Browne v. County of Tehama, 213 Cal.App.4th 704 (2013), the plaintiffs challenged a local ordinance, which created severe restrictions regarding the manner in which medical marijuana could be cultivated.

In response to concerns with large growing operations and other related concerns, and in order to protect the health and safety of its residents, Tehama County passed a general ordinance touching upon zoning requirements and other elements necessary to grow marijuana in its area. A failure to do so would be considered a nuisance, and potentially punishable by civil remedies.

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November 25, 2013

California Court of Appeals Affirms Warrantless Search of Vehicle for Marijuana

A California Court of Appeals recently handed down a unpublished decision, in the case People v. Lewis, Cal: Court of Appeal, 1st Appellate Dist., 4th Div. 2013, reaffirming the sweeping ability of police officers to perform entire vehicle searches without first securing a search warrant. car stock image.jpg

The appeal arose out of a traffic stop in September 2011. A police officer saw a car driving above the speed limit, so he pursued the car. The driver subsequently made a left hand turn without using his signal, and then made a right turn from the center lane into a driveway. After the officer pulled the car over in order to conduct a routine traffic stop, the officer reportedly detected a strong marijuana smell coming from the car.

The officer asked the driver about the smell, and was told that there was a marijuana cigarette on the center console. The officer looked into the car and saw that it was intact, without any charring. Defendant then showed the officer a medical marijuana card. Based on the officer's training and expertise, he did not believe that a single marijuana cigarette could have produced such a strong odor.

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November 4, 2013

Multiple Arrests Made in Connection with Discovery of 216 Pounds of Marijuana

Lake County sheriff's deputies recently reported that they arrested five individuals, from two separate traffic stops, and seized 216 pounds of marijuana. cannibus.jpg

The first stop took place in the afternoon on Highway 29. After stopping the car, the deputy on patrol smelled marijuana. Authorities stated that the two Santa Rosa men in the car were arrested, and deputies subsequently located 113 bags of processed marijuana in addition to a .380-caliber pistol with a magazine for the gun and six live cartridges.

The driver was arrested on felony charges for possession of marijuana for sale. The passenger was arrested on suspicion of three felonies: possession of marijuana for sale, being armed while possessing drugs, and having a concealed firearm in a vehicle.

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October 3, 2013

Marijuana Triple Homicide Case to Proceed to Trial

As a result of a preliminary hearing for one of the suspects in a triple homicide case, a judge ruled that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the case against the defendant as charged. The two other defendants in the case have reportedly waived their rights to a preliminary hearing. Based upon what has been reported thus far, it seems that prosecutors are relying heavily on testimonial evidence against this defendant from his co-conspirators. bullets.jpg

The main defendant in the homicide case, Mark Cappello, has been labeled as the man who fired the shots at the three would-be business partners in a so-called marijuana deal gone bad. The three victims were reportedly shot as they sat on the floor packaging bundles of marijuana for later redistribution in New York.

According to a detective who testified at the preliminary hearing, defendant Odin Dwyer stated that he was standing in the kitchen when he heard gunshots. He then looked toward the bedroom where the men had been preparing the marijuana and saw Cappello standing with an arm extended, holding a firearm, and the three victims sprawled on the floor.

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September 26, 2013

Sonoma County Sheriff Makes Multiple Arrests in Santa Rosa Robbery

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call earlier this week, claiming that a home-invasion robbery was taking place on a rural property on the northwestern slope of Hood Mountain. The property is a self described artists collective and an alleged medical marijuana growth farm.private_property_sign.jpg

A deputy responding to the call intercepted five men in two vehicles as they drove down the private one lane street. Once backup arrived, which included a canine unit and surveillance plane, law enforcement detained and arrested the five men. They were believed to be the men responsible for the alleged home invasion robbery. The Sheriff's office also arrested the man who made the initial frantic 911 call. The men were identified as suspects by witnesses in the home as well as through surveillance images taken by a camera on the property.

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September 4, 2013

Santa Rosa Police Make Arrest in Hash Lab

small plant.jpgSanta Rosa police made an arrest late last month in connection with what they believed to be a concentrated cannabis or "hash lab" in a Bennett Valley home. A Santa Rosa police sergeant said in a statement that they arrested a fifteen year old boy on suspected of running the lab.

According to the statement, police first learned of the lab on a Friday afternoon, and subsequently began a surveillance of the property. The boy was found in possession of concentrated cannabis when he entered the home. Police additionally found 43 pounds of loose leaf marijuana (one of the major components in the production process), seven grams of concentrated cannabis aka honey oil aka hash oil, and further evidence of a hash oil production lab in a shed in the yard of the residence.

The teen was subsequently arrested and booked into juvenile hall on charges of manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of concentrated cannabis, and possession of marijuana for sale.

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August 25, 2013

Santa Rosa Police Preempt Large Marijuana Shipment

wooden_crate.jpgLast week Santa Rosa police were surprised to discover that a large crate that was at a local UPS center, which was ultimately destined for Florida, contained a large amount of marijuana and other substances. It subsequently led to the discovery of two large marijuana grows.

Detectives secured a warrant to search inside a large crate reported as suspicious at a local UPS. Inside the parcel they found 113 individual packages of marijuana weighing 150 pounds, hash bricks, and 80 grams of hash oil. The contents of the crate were seized as evidence.

An investigation into the shipper of the crate led authorities to Humboldt County, where authorities searched two separate locations. There, on a 40-acre property in Briceland, officers reportedly found 599 marijuana plants and methamphetamine, cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, several weapons and $40,000 in cash.

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