Three arrested in Bakersfield pot seizure

September 07, 2005

Nada Behiz, Bakersfield Californian

Federal and local authorities raided a medical marijuana dispensary and its owner's home Thursday morning, and investigators arrested three people as part of an alleged illegal marijuana trafficking operation. Agents seized 20 pounds of marijuana at a wholesale value of $800,000 and three stolen firearms during the raid, they said. The owner of Free and Easy Cooperative on North Chester, James Holland, and his associates Michael Kilpatrick, 44, and Thomas Wright, 34, were arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen firearms, federal officials said.

They may also be charged with possession of illegal drugs, federal agent Gordon Taylor said.

The raid was the first in Bakersfield since the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the medical marijuana movement by ruling that the federal government has the authority to prosecute people whose activities are legal under state law but are prosecutable under federal law.

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which allowed the use of marijuana under a doctor's prescription for medicinal purposes.

"Clearly possession, distribution or sale of marijuana is a violation of federal laws that was reiterated by the Supreme Court decision," Taylor said. "We are going to enforce not only those laws that have to do with heroin and cocaine but marijuana laws as well."

Authorities said the raid was the culmination of a six-month investigation of an operation run by Holland that involved officers from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Kern County Sheriff's Department, the Bakersfield Police Department, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The DEA issued search warrants for both Free and Easy Cooperative on North Chester Avenue and Holland's home.

Most of the marijuana was found at Holland's house, Taylor said.

When drug enforcement agents and investigators arrived at the dispensary Thursday morning, they saw Holland drive away from the shop, Taylor said.

During a pursuit, Holland threw a loaded 40-caliber handgun out of his car onto the sideway along North Chester Avenue, Taylor said.

Taylor said each marijuana dispensary will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

"Often these dispensaries are owned and operate by common criminals that are using state marijuana laws to hide behind," Taylor said.

There is one other medical marijuana dispensary in Bakersfield.

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