Owner of pot-candy factory surrenders on federal drug charges
October 03, 2007
Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle
The owner of an Oakland marijuana candy factory surrendered Thursday to face federal drug charges, but not before blasting the U.S. government for what he called an unfair attack by federal bullies on ailing patients who rely on medical marijuana.
He was later released on a $300,000 bond.
Michael Martin, 33, of El Sobrante was one of four people charged last week in connection with Tainted Inc., which started as a boutique business that made chocolate truffles and grew into a large marijuana-candy maker that bought chocolate by the ton, authorities said.
"I believe truly in my heart that I have done nothing wrong," Martin said outside the Oakland Federal Building. He was joined by his wife, Elinor, their sons, 3-year-old Tyler and 5-month-old Lucas, and supporters who held signs reading, "DEA: Keep your hands out of the medical marijuana cookie jar."
Martin, his attorney Sara Zalkin and J. Tony Serra, the famed lawyer who also supports medical marijuana, then left for the Federal Building in San Francisco because the magistrate in Oakland was unavailable. U.S. Magistrate Nandor Vadas released Martin on bond.
Martin said he joined the medical-marijuana movement after seeing his father die painfully of prostate cancer in 2002 after a 10-year battle. His father refused to use marijuana because of a federal ban on all types of the drug. Martin said he uses medical marijuana to ease pain after a fall left him with seven screws and a steel plate in his left heel. He said he also has degenerative cartilage in his right knee.
Three Tainted employees were arrested by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents last week, but Martin was a fugitive, federal prosecutors said.
Martin disputed that assertion, saying that he had simply been on vacation with his family at the time his factory on 61st Street in North Oakland and the defendants' homes were raided. During one arrest, an agent shot and paralyzed a Doberman pinscher named Doobie, supporters said. The incident is under DEA investigation.
Authorities said Tainted made candies with names that played off popular legal treats: Buddafinga, Mr. Greenbud, Stoners. The business also made other pot-laced items such as cookies, ice cream, peanut butter, granola bars and even barbecue sauce, according to the DEA.
The investigation bears similarities to DEA raids in Oakland last year in which five people connected with a company called Beyond Bomb were convicted of making marijuana-laced treats with names like Munchy Way, Rasta Reece's and Puff-a-Mint Pattie.
In federal marijuana cases, defense attorneys are barred from telling jurors that companies supply medical cannabis products through licensed dispensaries to qualified patients. Proposition 215, the initiative approved in 1996 by state voters, legalized growing and using marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation. Under federal law, marijuana used for any purpose is illegal.
Over the past two years, Tainted bought nearly 4 tons of chocolate from Guittard Chocolate Co. in Burlingame for more than $14,000, Armstrong wrote. Tainted's candies and other food items sold for $2.50 to $20 apiece, depending on the strength of the product, authorities said.
Martin; Tainted's operations manager Jessica Sanders, 30, of San Leandro, and couriers Michael Anderson, 42, of Oakland and Diallo McLinn, 35, of Oakland, were charged with conspiracy to manufacture or distribute controlled substances.
Sanders, Anderson and McLinn are free on $200,000 bond. All four defendants are due back in U.S. District Court in Oakland on Oct. 26.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at email@example.com.