Not guilty plea entered for ex-pot store owner

January 19, 2006

Denny Walsh, Sacramento Bee

Richard James Marino, the former operator of a marijuana dispensary in Roseville, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Sacramento federal court to drug and money laundering charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows ordered Marino, 52, released on $200,000 bail secured by two houses he owns in Fort Bragg, where he was arrested Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal argued that, even after his Roseville store and Newcastle pot garden were raided by federal drug agents in 2004, Marino opened a marijuana dispensary in Fort Bragg.

But Marino's attorney, John Duree Jr., told Hollows that "no marijuana was distributed at that location." In announcing Marino's indictment last week, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott depicted him as a big-time narcotics trafficker trying to hide behind the California law that authorizes medical use of marijuana if a doctor recommends it.

Scott said Marino grossed $2.75 million in the eight months his store was in operation from January 2004 to early September of that year.

Duree said in an e-mail to a Bee reporter that his client "has been a law-abiding citizen all his life."

"He opened Capitol Compassionate Care after receiving approval from the Roseville City Council and the chief of police," Duree wrote. "He was open and honest about all aspects of the undertaking and made every effort to comply with the California law concerning medical marijuana."

But, under federal law, cultivation, possession or use of marijuana for any purpose is a crime.

In addition, Scott pointed out, by the time Marino opened for business in early 2004, the California statute had been amended to prohibit the sale of marijuana for profit.

Duree noted in his e-mail that Marino has not been charged with violating state law.

Presumably, Duree wrote, the subject was raised "to disguise the fact that this prosecution is directly antithetical to California's laws and values." The position that marijuana has no medicinal value "has been rejected by scientists and physicians who have actually reviewed the evidence of medical benefit," Duree wrote.

"It has been rejected by thousands of Californians who find relief from chronic medical problems through the use of this natural herb. It also has been soundly rejected by the voters of this state." Duree's latter reference was to the fact that California's medical marijuana law came into being as a successful 1996 ballot initiative.

"Mr. Marino is a decent man," Duree wrote. "Unfortunately, he has now made the list of those victimized by the federal officials who make their living demonizing a plant that has significant medical value to many individuals."

Marino is charged in a 19-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, possession with the intent to distribute marijuana and manufacturing marijuana. He is also charged with engaging in various transactions with ill-gotten gains and laundering $356,130 through multiple accounts.

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