Pot club owner unable to retrieve seized items

September 01, 2006

Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times

The owner of a cannabis club and his deliveryman have struck out at Richmond police headquarters trying to retrieve confiscated property: the club owner's 27 pounds of marijuana and the driver's personal effects, which include more than $23,000 in cash he called his life's savings.

"They're denying patients their medicine," said Ken Estes, who owns Holistic Solutions on Hilltop Mall Road and the marijuana that was in the truck.

The marijuana will be held as evidence, said Steve Ladeck, commander of WestNET, the West Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team. On Thursday, a WestNET officer handed the deliveryman, Richard Barrett, a notice of intended forfeiture of the cash. Barrett said he has carried his savings with him since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Police returned his truck Wednesday and some personal effects Thursday.

Estes described as "pure harassment" a police action that began Tuesday with a traffic stop and culminated in Barrett's arrest on suspicion of illegally transporting narcotics and confiscation of the truck's cargo.

Barrett was released later Tuesday after the cannabis club's legal team posted $15,000 bail. Barrett has an Oct. 2 date to appear in court but has not been charged with any crime.

By then, Estes said, the marijuana, which he described as top-grade with the name "Ken's granddaddy," likely will be useless.

"The product can go bad," Estes said. "It's like any kind of perishable."

Late Friday afternoon, Holistic Solutions remained closed, with a handwritten sign taped to the door informing patrons it was out of medication.

Barrett and Estes say they are in full compliance with state medical-marijuana laws. Both are certified medical-marijuana patients and can carry 8 ounces of marijuana for themselves and each patient they serve under state law, they say.

Ladeck said he did not know initially that Barrett is a cannabis patient.

"I was told that Mr. Barrett has a marijuana card," Ladeck said. "I think I was told after he was arrested that there was some indication of medicinal marijuana."

But that does not mean Barrett was acting legally, Ladeck said.

"It's not as cut and dry as that," he said. "That's why we're taking our time and investigating.

"There was more than probable cause to arrest him."

Ladeck said he could not elaborate.

Richmond police said Barrett was pulled over in a "routine traffic stop" that happened to uncover marijuana.

"(The arresting officer) actually received information from a confidential source that the car may have been carrying narcotics," deputy chief Lori Ritter said. "He developed the probable cause to stop the car based upon the stop sign violation and then, you know, was able to notice the obvious odor of marijuana coming from it.

"Since it is an ongoing investigation at this time, we are not in a position to reveal the confidential source and where that information came from."

Barrett said he had just pulled out of a McDonald's restaurant on Klose Way and was approaching the stop sign at the intersection with Blume Drive when he saw four police cars and two police motorcycles on the next block.

"I came to a complete stop and counted: 'one, two,'" Barrett said; police vehicles pulled up behind him, warning lights flashing, he said.

When he returned to his Hayward house Tuesday, WestNET officers presented him with a search warrant. A police list of seized evidence includes marijuana and related packaging materials, a scale, literature and some ammunition but no gun.

Estes scoffed at the police version of what precipitated Tuesday's truck bust.

"Confidential tip? They could have asked me," Estes said. "We operate openly.

"That 'confidential tip' was from a police officer who sat across the street watching. I see them there all the time."

Estes said one or two police cars, sometimes marked, other times not, usually prowl around his store.

"Sometimes, they're in our parking lot," he said.

In 1996, the state's voters approved marijuana for medical use on the recommendation of a doctor. State Senate Bill 420 in 2003 set guidelines for distributing the drug. The federal government, however, considers marijuana an illegal drug with no medical application.

Richmond has no cannabis club-regulating ordinance. Administrative officials have said the clubs are therefore illegal, but they have not enforced a cease-and-desist order against Holistic Solutions issued May 16.

Other cities have held that without an ordinance, there is no legal basis to control or ban the clubs. Estes said he considers Richmond's cease-and-desist order illegal.

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@cctimes.com.

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