Medical pot shop shut down

September 03, 2004

Niesha Lofing , Sacramento Bee

Federal agents Friday raided a Roseville medical marijuana dispensary and the owner's Newcastle farm, seizing hundreds of plants that had been the root of a neighborhood uproar.

Drug Enforcement Agency officers simultaneously served federal search warrants at Richard Marino's business and home. Marino, who opened the Capitol Compassionate Care dispensary in January, said the raids were a complete surprise.

No arrests have been made.

'I thought I was doing everything above board,' Marino said during a phone interview from an undisclosed location.

'I still think I'm doing everything aboveboard.'

<!-- OAS_AD('Button20'); //--> Employees at Marino's store on Lincoln Way in Old Roseville were shaken by the DEA raid. Alan Archuleta, a shift manager, said agents stormed in at 9:30 a.m., guns drawn, and yelling for everyone inside to get on the ground.

Archuleta said he was in a back room, and when he stuck his head into the hallway he was met with a gun in the face.

'Initially I was very shocked,' he said. 'I thought we were being robbed until I saw the badge. For a split second, it was very traumatizing.'

Archuleta said Marino's son - who works at the store and shares his father's name - was handcuffed after agents gathered employees' identification but was later released.

DEA officials, who shut down the store, said they had no knowledge of anyone being handcuffed when the warrants were served, and declined further comment.

Marino and his business - the subject of multiple news stories after it opened - have been the subject of an ongoing DEA investigation, officials said during a news conference Friday.

Because the investigation is continuing, agents provided little information on the case.

'We will collect all the evidence and present the case to the U.S. attorney's office,' said Gordon Taylor, agent-in-charge of the DEA's Sacramento office.

The decision to issue arrest warrants would be up to the U.S. attorney, he said.

While Marino is breaking federal law, which holds that possessing and cultivating marijuana is illegal, he is not breaking state law.

California voters in 1996 passed Proposition 215, which allows qualified patients to use medical marijuana.

And last year, the Legislature passed a law that enabled the growing and selling of medicinal marijuana. The law broadened the definition of a medical marijuana caregiver and allows for the drug's collective cultivation.

The conflict between state and federal law regarding medical marijuana deepened recently after two rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that federal authorities do not have the power to go after noncommercial medical marijuana operations confined within the state.

The U.S. Department of Justice is appealing the cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Richard Meyer, special agent in the DEA's San Francisco division, said dispensaries operating elsewhere in the state also are in violation of the law.

'They should know that they are breaking the law,' Meyer said. 'They should get out of the business of selling drugs.'

Since early July, Marino has been growing hundreds of marijuana plants on the 5 acres he recently purchased in Newcastle. The plants were surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, and security guards patrolled the property 24 hours a day.

A Bee article last month explained how his move to the rural community angered some neighbors.

Residents had taken their fears of increasing crime and decreasing property values to Placer County officials, who told them nothing could be done because of the state law and the property's residential-agricultural zoning.

On Friday, several neighbors watched as federal agents dug up the marijuana plants and carried them to a U-Haul truck.

Agents said the marijuana will be destroyed, but declined to say how many plants were seized or what their value was.

'This is wonderful,' said Mike Ford, who lives next to Marino. 'It's long overdue. It should have been done the day after he got here.'

Ben and Gloria Padilla, along with Ford and several other neighbors, had written lawmakers about their frustration over the county's inability to take action. Ben Padilla said the raid was a welcome surprise.

'I'm glad. In fact, all the neighbors are,' he said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not uncommon in the Bay Area, but Marino's store was the only one of its kind in the Sacramento area when it opened last winter.

A few months later, a dispensary opened in Colfax. That store remains open, and its owner couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

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