Medical Cannabis Workers Arrested

April 14, 2005

Angela Hill and Quincy Cromer, Ukiah Daily Journal

UKIAH — The operator of a recognized East Bay medical marijuana dispensary and his girlfriend were pulled over on Highway 101 near Willits in Mendocino County Tuesday night for a traffic violation, then both arrested on suspicion of transporting about 40 pounds of pot in their car.

Winslow Norton, 24, and Jessica Gibson, 20, both of Berkeley, say they presented sheriffs deputies with documentation that they were taking the pot back to the medical marijuana dispensary called The Compassionate Cooperative of Alameda County in an unincorporated part of Hayward, their attorney William Panzer said Thursday.

But deputies in the Mendocino County Sheriffs Department took the two into custody, where they remained Thursday in lieu of $250,000 bail each. In addition,

$150,000 in cash was confiscated from Nortons father — a fellow cannabis club member — who attempted to post their bail Wednesday, with officials saying it was possibly drug money, authorities said.

'Thats ridiculous,' Panzer said. 'Theyre not evil drug dealers using evil drug money to spread more evil drugs around the world. (Norton) runs a legitimate medical marijuana dispensary thats been recognized by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Its hard to figure that this is happening up there, since generally Mendocino County is very progressive when it comes to medical marijuana. '

Norton and Gibson were pulled over at about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday for a suspected traffic offense, police said. Deputies then

  detected an odor of marijuana and performed a vehicle search, finding the pot packaged for sale and $2,280 in cash, according to sheriffs reports.

They claimed to be buying for a cannabis club in Alameda County, but couldnt produce enough documentation to show that they were legitimate, and we caught them with 44 pounds of buds, said Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman.

Michael Norton, Winslows father, appeared at the Mendocino County Jail Wednesday to bail his son and Gibson out with $150,000 in a knapsack that smelled of marijuana, Vroman said, and the bail money was confiscated.

'They sent someone up from Alameda County to bail them out with money that smelled of marijuana and stunk to high heaven,' Vroman said. 'We confiscated

that as being fruits of criminal activity, and the burden is on them to show that it is legitimate money. If they are a legitimate operation, why didnt they just call a bail bondsman?'

East Bay cannabis club owners and even a member of Alameda County Supervisor Nate Mileys office have gotten involved. All are amazed at the arrest, but say various interpretations of state law may be the problem.

'Because theres not really a state-sanctioned permitting process, its not so easy to get recognized when youre out of your own jurisdiction, no matter what kind of paperwork you have with you,' said Jeff Jones of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative.

When Bob Swanson, a member of Nate Mileys staff, heard of the arrests on Wednesday, he called Mendocino

  County authorities on the couples behalf, explaining that the Compassionate Cooperative is one of seven permitted medical marijuana dispensaries in Alameda County.

'I think I was able to give (Norton and Gibson) some credibility, but Im not sure how much impact it had,' Swanson said.

'The Mendocino DAs interpretation of Prop 215 and SB 420 is the most rigid interpretation Ive ever heard from anyone,' Swanson said. 'Theyre reading things into it, such as that you cant transport medical marijuana across a county line, and cant operate a dispensary unless youre a nonprofit, which is not so. I suppose it could be construed that way, but Ive never heard of anyone doing that before. '

Vroman acknowledged Swansons call. 'Someone from the supervisors office

  contacted us and said that they have the legal approval of their county council down there, and we explained to them that they are in violation of the law,' Vroman said. 'We have the 44 pounds of bud and they need to show us why we need to return it. '

Panzer said his next step is to get the money and medical marijuana back by presenting documentation to prove Norton operates a legal dispensary.

'I think, in the end, cooler heads will prevail,' Swanson said.

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