3 from pot store facing charges

January 05, 2007

Steve Fetbrandt, Press-Enterprise (CA)

INDIO - The Riverside County district attorney's office has filed felony drug charges against the owner and two employees of an embattled Palm Desert medical marijuana dispensary.

Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the case against Cannahelp shop owner Stacy Hochanadel and his employees, James Campbell and John Reynolds, could be precedent-setting because it is the first time in Riverside County that anyone associated with a storefront marijuana dispensary has been prosecuted.

Hochanadel, Campbell and Reynolds are charged with the same three felony drug counts: one of unlawful possession; one of sales, furnishing and transporting; and one of maintaining a place for the purpose of selling a controlled substance. If convicted, they face up to three years in state prison.

Wyatt said arrest warrants have been issued for all three and that Hochanadel has indicated that he plans to surrender to authorities Monday.

None of the defendants was available for comment Friday, and Hochanadel's San Diego-based attorney did not return a telephone call.

California's 10-year-old medical marijuana law allows patients with prescriptions from a doctor to grow and use marijuana, but not to sell it for profit. Federal law prohibits any cultivation, sale or use of marijuana.

"We're not targeting individuals who have a prescription and are in need of marijuana for medicinal purposes," Wyatt said. "We're targeting people who are using the guise of medicinal marijuana to actually sell marijuana. We believe there are people out there selling marijuana (illegally) for profitable purposes."

Wyatt said individuals with medical prescriptions may possess 8 ounces of dry marijuana or six mature plants or 12 small plants.

"If you have more than that, we believe it's a prosecutable case," she said.

Wyatt said authorized caregivers may dispense legally prescribed medicinal marijuana.

"It's not just anybody who can do this," she said. "You have to be a designated caregiver for the person who has the prescription. There is a process to this whole medicinal-marijuana thing."

The Palm Desert business stayed open even after the city revoked its license Dec. 18. In a letter to Cannahelp, City Attorney David Erwin said the business failed to comply with conditions of an agreement that came out of a hearing before the City Council on Feb. 23.

"Because of your failure to comply with the agreement of April 10, 2006, your license is hereby revoked and your operation must cease immediately," Erwin wrote.

City officials have said undercover authorities were able to purchase marijuana from Cannahelp without proper credentials.

Riverside County supervisors on Oct. 3 banned marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas and joined other counties that are challenging state medical-marijuana laws.

The board stopped short of an outright prohibition on marijuana-growing cooperatives but banned the distribution of marijuana to caregivers, qualified patients or patients with a state identification card even at marijuana-growing co-ops, which are legal under state law.

Then-District Attorney Grover Trask said he would not prosecute patients who use marijuana in accordance with state laws. His successor, Rod Pacheco, agreed that the district attorney's office has no authority to prosecute patients who are following state laws.

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