Cannabis Club protests Marijuana arrests

April 14, 2005

Quincy Cromer, Ukiah Daily Journal

A routine traffic stop on Highway 101 near Willits has incited a face-off between Mendocino County authorities and an Alameda County cannabis club.

Following the arrest of two Berkeley residents on suspicion of possession and transportation of more than 40 pounds of marijuana for sale, some $150,000 in cash was confiscated from an Alameda County cannabis club member who attempted to post their bail Wednesday.

Winslow Norton, 24, and Jessica Gibson, 20, were pulled over by sheriff's deputies at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday for a suspected traffic violation.

Deputies detected an odor and performed a vehicle search, finding the marijuana packaged for sale and $2,280 in cash, according to sheriff's reports.

'They claimed to be buying for a cannabis club in Alameda County but couldn't produce enough documentation to show that they were legitimate, and we caught them with 44 pounds of buds,' District Attorney Norm Vroman said.

Norton and Gibson were booked into jail on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale and transportation of marijuana under $250,000 bail each. An Oakland area cannabis club member tried to post their bail Wednesday.

Michael Norton, Winslow's father, appeared at the Mendocino County Jail with $150,000 in a knapsack that smelled of marijuana, Vroman said, and the bail money was confiscated as a product of suspected criminal activity.

'They sent someone up from Alameda County to bail them out with money that smelled of marijuana and stunk to high heaven. We confiscated that as being fruits of criminal activity, and the burden is on them to show that it is legitimate money,' Vroman said. 'If they are a legitimate operation, why didn't they just call a bail bondsman?'

After the money was confiscated, Vroman said he received a call from an Alameda County Supervisor's Office claiming that Norton has legal approval for his cannabis cooperative in Alameda County.

'Someone from the supervisor's 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.'

Bob Swanson, constituent liaison for Alameda County Fourth District Supervisor Nathan Miley, called the Sheriff's Office and the DA's Office after the arrests to explain that the cannabis cooperative is a permitted operation.

'I called the DA's Office and had a very cordial conversation and discussed SB 420 and Prop. 215, and they gave me an interpretation that is absolutely the most stringent that I have every heard,' Swanson said.

Bill Panzer represents Norton and Compassionate Collective of Alameda County -- the cannabis dispensary Norton operates -- and is working to get Norton and Gibson out of jail.

'I think that when all is said and done it will be clearly established that this is not illegal drug money, and the $150,000 will be returned, but right now my concern is getting my client and his girlfriend out of jail,' Panzer said.

'The basis for the alleged forfeit is a deputy said This smells like pot.' Legally there are going to be some big issues about this one, and apparently the cop ran to the judge and got the bail increased from $30,000 to $250,000,' Panzer said.

CCAC is one of seven permitted dispensaries by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Panzer said, which is currently considering a moratorium on such facilities in unincorporated Alameda County.

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

'We certainly will present information to the DA's Office if they are willing to listen. We will present information that this is for a medical co-op that is legal under the law and recognized by the county of Alameda, and we will seek the return of the medicine,' Panzer said.

If deputies believed the $150,000 was drug money, Norton's father should have been arrested because a felony would have been committed, Panzer added.

According to Vroman, this seizure is just an example of law enforcement officers doing their job to assure that cannabis clubs and clients are legally permitted and authorized.

'This is just a part of our ongoing efforts to make sure that we have legitimate medical marijuana users and providers,' Vroman said. 'If they are legitimate, they don't have anything to worry about. If they are not and we find them, we are going to prosecute them.'

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