Feds file medical pot complaint

September 08, 2004

Niesha Lofing, Sacramento Bee

The U.S. attorney's office on Wednesday filed a civil complaint asking for a medical marijuana dispensary owner to forfeit his home and business.

The complaint filed in federal court in Sacramento targets Richard Marino, whose Roseville store and Newcastle home were raided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday.

Officials seized about 250 marijuana plants growing on his five acres in Newcastle and 20 pounds of processed marijuana, more than $105,000 in cash and 250 plants from his business, Capitol Compassionate Care in Old Roseville, the complaint states.

Marino learned of the government's effort to take his home and business when contacted by The Bee.

'I'm kind of in a state of shock right now,' Marino said. 'I had no idea this was coming.'

Under federal law, the government can seize property used or intended to be used to violate federal drug law, which holds that dispensing or possessing marijuana is illegal. State law, however, allows for the growing, selling and use of medicinal marijuana, and Marino has maintained that he was fully complying with California's rules.

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

The cases are being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but until they are resolved, DEA officials say they will abide by federal law. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Door would not comment on the action taken against Marino on Wednesday.

'The complaint speaks for itself,' Door said.

Marino had reopened his store Saturday after DEA agents said there was nothing stopping him.

'I'm kinda getting mixed messages,' Marino said. 'They don't file charges against me. I open the next day. And now all of this has transpired.'

DEA officials say their message is clear: Marijuana is illegal.

'If they are breaking the law, they are in harm's way,' said Richard Meyer, special agent in the DEA's San Francisco division. 'We're not giving way to any drug dealers.'

Meyer said a new DEA strategy emphasizes seizing assets from drug sales. 'It's something we're going to be going after more and more,' he said.

Marino recently purchased his Newcastle home but does not own the Roseville building that houses his business.

The forfeiture of property is usually pursued when criminal charges or indictments are filed, though it can be sought on its own in civil court. In Marino's case, officials said the issuance of an arrest warrant still is possible.

Michael Vitiello, a McGeorge School of Law professor, said the forfeiting of property could be a bigger deterrent than an arrest.

'This will get (Marino's) attention,' Vitiello said. 'Forfeiture has bite.'

Marino said he is planning on fighting the forfeiture and has 20 days to file a response.

The complaint contains observations of his customers, the number of plants at the store and marijuana prices ranging from $250 to $380 per ounce. It also enumerates an undercover operation by the DEA.

The store opened in January, and a DEA agent began visiting it in early March, posing as a potential customer. During the first visit, the agent gave a store clerk her driver's license and a fake prescription. The clerk called the doctor's office to verify the note, but the doctor's staff couldn't find the file and asked the agent to come to the office. The agent left the store.

The agent returned to the store May 3, after obtaining a medical marijuana prescription from a San Francisco doctor.

When Marino's clerk called to verify the prescription, the doctor's office stated it was unable to find the doctor's recommendation. Marino's employee told the agent she would attempt to verify the prescription the following day, the document states.

On May 4, the agent returned to the store and paid $15 to join the 'marijuana buyer's club.' Marino's clerk gave the agent a temporary photo-ID club card and a bag containing a gram of marijuana, which the clerk said was for joining the club, the complaint states. The agent bought 1 ounce of marijuana worth $280.

When the agent returned May 11, with the intent to purchase 3 ounces of marijuana, Marino told her she was no longer welcome because she had previously forged a doctor's recommendation, according to the complaint.

Marino said 'it did not matter if the (agent) had a legitimate recommendation, that because the (agent) had forged the prior recommendation the (agent) was a liability' to the store, the complaint states.

The complaint also states that on July 6, DEA officials received an anonymous call stating Marino had moved to Newcastle and had marijuana plants growing in his yard and bright lights inside the residence.

Authorities conducted surveillance Aug. 17 and observed about 200 plants surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. A security truck also was parked on the property, the document states.

Marino's growing of marijuana at his home outraged some neighbors, and the controversy was covered by The Bee.

Neighbors met with county officials - who told them their hands were tied because of state law - and wrote and called state and federal lawmakers. Some were jubilant Friday as news of the raid on the store and home spread.

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