DEA shuts down dispensary

July 17, 2007

Will Bigham, Ontario Daily Bulletin (CA)

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided and closed down a medical-marijuana dispensary here as protesters rallied outside Tuesday morning.

Federal agents served search warrants at about 6 a.m. at the Healing Nations Collective dispensary, at the owner's Corona house, and at a Norco storage locker in his name, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen.

Ronald Naulls was arrested at 6:10 a.m. on suspicion of marijuana distribution and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Stacy said. Both are federal charges.

Naulls, 27, was booked at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.

As agents conducted the raid, medical-marijuana activists surrounded the dispensary at 80 W. Grand Ave. Authorities seized 6 pounds of dried marijuana, edibles containing marijuana, and less than $1,000 cash.

At Naulls' home, agents seized 8 pounds of marijuana, $75,000 and three cars that authorities believe were purchased or financed using drug money. The three cars were a 2005 GMC Yukon, a 2007 E350 Mercedes and a 2007 Lexus RH 400.

Agents seized about 2 pounds of marijuana from the Norco storage locker, Pullen said.

About 20 federal agents participated in Tuesday's raids, Pullen said. Corona police also assisted in the operation.

The shutdown of the facility, which had been open since May 2006, comes amid a regionwide crackdown by local and federal authorities on marijuana dispensaries, and on homes and outdoor facilities where marijuana is cultivated.

The Corona dispensary was one of the last operational dispensaries in the Inland Valley area. Dispensaries in Claremont, Pomona, Norco and Riverside have been shut down in recent months through police raids or court action.

A federal indictment of Naulls alleges that he and his associates at the dispensary made cash deposits of more than $500,000 from June 2006 to February to a bank account opened in the name of "Healing Nations Collective."

Also, on April 11 and June 26, undercover federal agents purchased marijuana from the dispensary, according to the indictment.

A group of at least 30 marijuana activists gathered in front of the dispensary Tuesday morning to protest the raid. Many in the group were holding signs and shouting slogans in support of medical marijuana. One man began smoking marijuana within feet of federal agents.

Many of the protesters were employees at the dispensary. Christopher Medina, the dispensary manager, said there was little prior warning that the DEA was even monitoring the dispensary.

"I thought we were going to be open for a lot longer than this," he said.

The dispensary is located in a strip mall, surrounded by food markets and beauty-supply stores. There is no sign at the dispensary, and tinted windows prevent passers-by from being able to peer inside.

The only indication that a business even exists at the location is a small sign beside the door that lists the dispensary's hours.

Medina said the dispensary had a good relationship with the surrounding businesses and had no problems with local police despite an ongoing court battle with the city.

"This is out of nowhere," he said.

Ryan Michaels, a medical-marijuana activist and former employee at Healing Nations Collective, said the dispensary provided marijuana to 2,900 medical-marijuana users.

When Healing Nations Collective opened in May 2006, it immediately began facing resistance from the city, which said the dispensary withheld specific information about marijuana sales from its business license application.

The City Council passed a moratorium on medical-marijuana dispensaries in June 2006 and passed a permanent ban in April, said Corona City Manager Beth Grove.

The city sued the dispensary last year over the application issue and for operating on land that is not zoned for marijuana sales, Grove said.

The city won an initial court ruling against the dispensary, but the dispensary appealed and was permitted by the court to remain open through the conclusion of the appeal, Grove said.

Staff writer Will Bigham can be reached by e-mail at will.bigham@dailybulletin.com, or by phone at (909) 483-8553.



Be the first to Comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.