Hearing scheduled today for CannaHelp operators

March 01, 2007

, Desert Sun

INDIO - A preliminary hearing is scheduled today at 8:30 a.m. at Larson Justice Center for three men charged with three felony counts each related to marijuana possession, sales and transport. CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel and managers James Campbell and John Bednar, all 30, surrendered at the Indio Jail on Jan. 8 after the Riverside County District Attorney's Office issued warrants for their arrests.

On Dec. 19, CannaHelp, a medical marijuana dispensary at 73350 El Paseo, was served with a cease-and-desist order by the city of Palm Desert stemming from the alleged sale of marijuana to an undercover officer with no prescription for the drug.

Hochanadel had signed an agreement with the city, agreeing to sell medical marijuana only to patients with proper identification cards issued by the state.

Under California state law, medical marijuana is allowed only for patients with a doctor's letter or recommendation, but the drug cannot be sold for profit.

Marijuana sales and records were seized at CannaHelp during a raid by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department on Dec. 1. At that time, sheriff's investigators determined that CannaHelp was operating "for profit," said sheriff's investigator Sgt. Manny Garcia.

Hochanadel's attorney, James Warner, disputed that characterization after his client's Jan. 9 arraignment at the Larson Justice Center.

"CannaHelp is a nonprofit and there's no proof Stacy is making a profit," Warner said. "The district attorney's office obviously thinks dispensaries are illegal, but Californians don't. They voted for it. This is a political issue."

Assistant District Attorney Traci Carillo disagreed. "The issue is that CannaHelp is operating outside of the law and making a profit," she alleged.

The three defendants posted bail. Today's preliminary hearing is intended to enable a judge to determine if there are grounds to order the accused to stand trial.

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