A plea by a Marina medical marijuana provider to drop the criminal charges against him were brushed aside by a judge in Monterey County in January.
Kevin Saunders, a well-known advocate for medical marijuana on the Monterey Peninsula, was arraigned in Superior Court Jan. 17 before Judge Robert Burlison on three felony counts of selling weed from a dispensary in Marina. Medical pot shops are banned there.
Saunders was arrested in December by a Monterey Peninsula drug squad and is free on $60,000 bail. At the hearing in January, he urged Burlison to dismiss the charges, saying the cannabis he’s charged with selling contained low amounts of THC and wasn’t intoxicating.
Saunders also said he was a target of “a witch hunt” by District Attorney Dean Flippo because he plans to run for mayor of Marina on an MMJ platform in the next election. But the judge cut Saunders off.
“This is not an open forum,” Burlison said. Since it was simply an initial appearance, the judge arraigned Saunders and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Feb. 11.
Saunders defended his actions outside court, saying the support he’s received shows he was right, even if the police put his dispensary out of business.
“I am a passionate gadfly at the worst,” he said, adding that he would “do what it takes to got this medicine to people.”
Saunders has a contentious reputation in Marina, where he’s been advocating for medical marijuana for months. The city has banned dispensaries since instituting a moratorium in 2007.
Saunders initially pressed the Marina City Council to endorse his pot shop, but when that didn’t work, he opened it anyway. Shortly after, police arrested him. He also has a history of confrontations at the Monterey College of Law, which took out a restraining order against him last fall for allegedly harassing staff and students.
He was accompanied to court by Amanda Hitt, a medical marijuana consultant. She said legitimate investors are already pumping large amounts of money into the same product he was selling.
“The whole infrastructure is being set up while charges are being lodged against me,” Saunders said.
Marina is just one of hundreds of local governments that prohibit medical pot dispensaries. A ruling by the California Supreme Court last spring allows municipalities to zone marijuana shops out of business, despite the state’s MMJ law, approved by voters in 1996.
More than 200 localities have banned weed stores outright, including Marina and Pacific Grove in Monterey County. A smaller number have enacted regulations to limit the number and operation of the stores they allow. The rest, including Carmel and Monterey, rely on state law to govern pot shops.