A prominent MMJ businessman who ran several dispensaries in Central California was sentenced to five years in prison this month, according to the Associated Press.
Matthew Davies, 35, reached a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him a possible 15 year sentence. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacturing marijuana, and distributing marijuana through his businesses in Sacramento and Stockton.
Davies ran two large indoor grow sites and seven dispensaries in and around Sacramento. He carefully planned the businesses with accountants and lawyers, and argued that he was in compliance with state medical marijuana law.
But he was charged under federal law, which bars all marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession, regardless of state laws or medical necessity. He was indicted last year by a federal grand jury, which also charged Lynn Smith, 63, and Robert Duncan, 30, his business associates.
The case began in 2011 with a call to Stockton police about a burglary in progress at a business location. When officers arrived, they found more than a dozen people inside cultivating marijuana.
Smith, Davies’ partner in the weed businesses, pleaded guilty to similar charges early this year, while Duncan pleaded guilty last year to growing pot. Both men await sentencing.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who prosecutes cases in Sacramento, Stockton and the rest of the Eastern District of California, handled Davies’ case. Earlier this year he said Davies was planning to build an expansive Central Valley marijuana empire that he knew was illegal under federal law.
Medical marijuana is legal under California state law. Voters here legalized the drug for medicinal purposes in 1996, and despite continuing prosecutions of cannabis cultivators and sellers, the federal government has never tried to invalidate the law.
In fact, as of August, the feds have taken an official hands-off position on legal weed. As long as states that legalize medical or recreational pot enforce strict regulations that meet certain federal criteria – such as preventing drug violence – the Department of Justice and its various agencies won’t pursue marijuana businesses that follow state laws.
Not everyone has gotten with the plan, however, especially in California. Federal prosecutors here have continued high-profile pot cases despite the new policy. Indeed, they’ve long since aligned themselves with the element in the state’s law enforcement community that views the medical marijuana law as illegitimate, illegal and unworthy of their respect or obeisance – apparently regardless of the president’s orders.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Wagner’s colleague in the Northern District of California, has garnered an even more aggressive, anti-pot reputation than Wagner. She is notorious for trying to shutter dispensaries across her district, but especially in and around Oakland.
California will likely vote to legalize marijuana in the next three years, forcing these drug warriors to face a final choice: Keep chasing the illusory goal of a “drug free” society or acknowledge that weed is part of our culture, just like alcohol, and isn’t going anywhere.