Busted for baking
October 18, 2005
Ann Harrison, San Francisco Bay Guardian
When Chris Moseman staked out a spot next to a busy whipping post at the Folsom Street Fair last month, he never imagined he was about to spend more than two weeks in jail for selling marijuana cookies.
Moseman said he was shocked when San Francisco police sergeant James Bosch ordered the crowd to stand back and seized six marijuana cookies out of Moseman's hand and 120 more out of his backpack. Both Moseman and a fellow vendor were slapped with three felony drug sales and conspiracy charges.
"We didn't think we were breaking the law," said Moseman, adding that he was selling only to those who produced medical cannabis patient or caregiver cards. "It came out of nowhere."
When Moseman's public defender tried to get his bail reduced from $30,000, Magistrate Donna Little threatened to increase it to $1,000 per cookie. Little set an $80,000 bail for Moseman's codefendant, a woman who asked to be identified only as Cookie Carol.
While sales of marijuana cookies and brownies have become a common sight at public events in the city this year, San Francisco police, prosecutors, and magistrates are turning up the heat on vendors of loaded baked goods.
A total of four people were arrested at the Folsom Street Fair for selling marijuana edibles, and two people were arrested for setting up a cannabis baked goods booth at this year's Pride March.
District Attorney Kamala Harris told us that police at the Folsom Street Fair were responding to a complaint that a person had become sick there after eating a marijuana brownie.
"Sick people have access to regulated marijuana because they are sick, and we don't want them sicker because of bunk stuff on the streets," said Harris. She said she remains consistent in her support for medical marijuana.
But Moseman and Cookie Carol insist their products made nobody ill. Tracey Howell, who was arrested and charged with selling pot brownies at the fair, called the busts "political hysteria."
"It is a shame that there is no quality control, but that's the way it is when it's underground," Howell told us. "No one has ever gotten sick from my brownies."
Public Defender Christopher Hite, who is representing a defendant arrested at the Gay Pride March, says most people charged with felony marijuana possession with intent to sell get their charges reduced, as prosecutors know most San Francisco juries won't convict them.
"I think they are probably filing felony charges because of pressure from the Police Department," Hite said. "Many of these cases don't go to trial, and if they did, they would lose."
Howell and Cookie Carol, who are both medical marijuana caregivers, pled guilty last week to reduced misdemeanor charges of vending without a license. Moseman, who is not a patient or a caregiver and has a prior conviction for marijuana possession, pled guilty to a misdemeanor possession charge with no jail time.
Cookie Carol says she's still angry she had to pay $8,000 to a bail bondsperson. "It was cruel and unusual punishment for the circumstances," she said. "Kamala Harris is a sham, because on her platform she said that she supports medical marijuana and would keep the issue of marijuana low on her priority list."
"It just seems to me total overkill and a waste of resources," added attorney and former prosecutor Jim Hammer, who represented Moseman. "With all the serious crimes going unprosecuted, jails overcrowded and budgets tight, why are they filling up jail cells with nonviolent people selling pot cookies?"
Harris says no one is pressuring her to file felony charges in marijuana cases. But as city supervisors develop medical cannabis guidelines, she says, San Francisco should show other California counties that it can be a model for responsible self-regulation and draw the line at marijuana vending at public events.
"I think we have to be clear as a community, are we saying that we want to decriminalize drugs?" Harris asked. "I know a lot of people are, but that may be throwing out the baby with the bath water. First let's show everyone that we know how to responsibly get a medicine to sick people. If this is seen as just a way to legalize narcotics, they will shut the door on medical marijuana."