After pot dispensary case tossed, Oakdale man wants to reopen store

November 09, 2009

Merrill Balassone, Modesto Bee

Addison DeMoura still wants to do business in Oakdale, even after drug agents raided his medical marijuana dispensary and took him from his house -- handcuffed and in underwear, he said -- as a newspaper reporter snapped photographs. Now, more than two years after his arrest, the case against DeMoura, 35, and the Oakdale Natural Choice Collective has come up empty.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley agreed last month to dismiss a host of felony charges against DeMoura, his wife and employees for lack of evidence.

Ashley said law enforcement officers left out "very important" facts when they asked for a search warrant for the East F Street collective. One of those facts, the defense argued, was that a confidential informant sent by agents to buy marijuana had a valid medical recommendation as required by California law.

"It's a huge victory for medical marijuana patients and providers," said Kris Hermes of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "I think this decision is something for other courts to take heed of across the state."

Prosecutor Shawn Barlow said it was "highly unlikely" he would refile charges against DeMoura. But he said the district attorney's office will continue to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries running afoul of state law.

"This is not a referendum or a victory for medical marijuana, far from it," Barlow said. "These storefront dispensaries are often fronts for illegal activities, including large-scale marijuana cultivation and sales. ... We're not just going to stand by and let those things happen."

Although growing, selling and using medical marijuana is allowed under state law, Modesto and four other Stanislaus County cities have banned medical marijuana sales, according to Americans for Safe Access. Oakdale is among the cities that have passed moratoriums on pot sales. The city did so shortly after the Natural Choice Collective opened in April 2007.

Oakdale's moratorium has expired, said Police Chief Marty West, so council members will have to act quickly in deciding whether to ban or allow medical marijuana sales within the city limit.

"There was a lot of public outcry over the dispensary because a lot of people felt it was a criminal enterprise," West said. "This community's not going to be real receptive to a marijuana dispensary. My position is it's likely we're not going to allow it."

The county is one of seven in the state to pass a ban for unincorporated areas, but the legality of such bans is being litigated in appellate courts, Hermes said.

Just this year, Stanislaus County supervisors grudgingly allowed the county health department to issue medical marijuana cards, required under a state law ordering jurisdictions to comply with California's Compassionate Use Act.

Sheriff Adam Christianson said anyone seeking to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Stanislaus County will attract the attention of law enforcement.

"If you're a drug trafficking organization, if you grow, you possess, you sell marijuana for profit, I'm coming after you," Christianson said. "Do I support medical marijuana dispensaries in my jurisdiction? Absolutely not."

Last month, the Justice Department took a significant departure from the Bush administration's policy on enforcing federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

It announced that people who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution as long as they conform to state law.


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