Will dispensary owner stand trial?
December 05, 2007
Amy Blaisdell, City News Service, Desert Sun (CA)
A Riverside County judge will decide on Friday whether three men accused of profiting from a former Palm Desert medical marijuana dispensary will stand trial on felony charges.
Stacy Hochanadel, who owned CannaHelp in Palm Desert, and managers James Campbell and John Bednar, all 31, contend they were running a legal medical marijuana business under Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420.
The men are charged with multiple drug-related felonies, including possession of marijuana for sale and the transportation and sale of marijuana. Authorities also contend the trio profited from the business.
Under California law, marijuana can be sold only on a not-for-profit basis and on the recommendation of a physician.
Marijuana and financial records were seized at CannaHelp, 73-359 El Paseo, in December 2006 during a raid by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
Wednesday's testimony came on the last day of a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Eric G. Helgesen, who will decide on Friday if there is enough evidence to send the case to trial.
During cross-examination Wednesday by Aimee Larson, Campbell's defense attorney, sheriff's Investigator Robert Garcia testified that the dispensary's employees appeared to be trained and educated in medical marijuana and said that an undercover officer who twice purchased pot on the premises was given help by employees on the types of strains and quantities that would help his back problem.
Garcia agreed with Larson that the dispensary's actions were not indicative of what she called typical "street-level drug dealers."
During questioning, Garcia also agreed with Larson that in his experience, street-level drug dealers never told him they wished to educate themselves on medical marijuana for the benefit of others.
He also agreed that none ever had an agreement with a city like Palm Desert in order to dispense marijuana
Garcia testified that CannaHelp took several steps to ascertain proper medical marijuana patients and conceded that the first attempt by an undercover officer to buy pot in the dispensary failed because employees could not verify his physician's recommendation.
On Tuesday, Garcia testified that Hochanadel was operating a $1.6 million business for profit.
But he admitted under cross examination that there was no way to verify salaries on a weekly basis and that he never investigated the dispensaries' other expenses, like utilities and rent.
Garcia said under cross-examination that the undercover agent who twice purchased marijuana from the dispensary did so with identification and a physician's note but did not have county identification cards.
At the end of Wednesday's hearing, Larson also argued Campbell's Miranda rights were violated and asked the judge to disallow any of his statements given to deputies during the Dec. 1, 2006, raid.