DA drops pot traffic charges

Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday dismissed marijuana trafficking charges against four people arrested in a May 2011 raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in East Sonora.

Jana Marie Evans, Nancy June Smith, Sara Herrin and Dannyjo Gellar Herrin, all of Tuolumne, appeared in Tuolumne County Superior Court for their trial when the charges were dropped.

The defendants were accused of selling marijuana through Today's Health Collective Inc. for profit, a violation of California's 1996 medical pot law.

Defense attorney Greg Bentley, of San Francisco, said a certified public accountant and forensic accountant reviewed the collective's bookkeeping and determined the collective was not operating as a for-profit business.

District Attorney Mike Knowles said the evidence seized two years ago from the marijuana co-op supported prosecution but was weakened by inconsistencies in court rulings over the past two years.

"The lack of clarity in the law and the lack of leadership from state lawmakers has allowed a piecemeal evolution of ambiguity that has rendered the successful prosecution of this case improbable," he said in a statement.

He said the dismissal is "not a ratification of the conduct" of the defendants and that selling marijuana for profit "will not be condoned."

"The Compassionate Use Act has been, and is being, abused to the personal gain of individuals," he said.

Sara Herrin pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of psychedelic mushrooms, but that charge will also be dropped if she successfully completes a drug treatment program, Bentley said. She can continue using marijuana for medical purposes during the term of the program.

The defendants were arrested during a raid on the Via Este Road operation by the Sonora Police Department and Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office.

Undercover narcotics agents obtained medical marijuana cards and posed as customers at Today's Health Collective and two other dispensaries: Foothill Care Collective on Mono Way in Sonora and Alternate Natural Solutions on Enterprise Drive in Chinese Camp.

Nine people were arrested on May 25, 2011, following the raids, accused of selling pot for profit. Charges were dropped in February 2012 against two of the defendants in the Foothills Care Collective case, James Willis Brisco, of Sonora, and Renee Lynn Rivera, of Willow Springs, while Rhett Schuller, of Sonora, pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana for sale, and Jason Willis Brisco, of Willow Springs, appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

Sarah Marie Jacobs, of Twain Harte, who was arrested after the raid on Alternative Natural Solutions, also appealed her case.

Bentley said he does not think the defendants will reopen Today's Health Collective because they have struggled financially and been "ostracized" by members of the community since their arrests.

"They tried their best to follow the law and apparently Tuolumne County had a different view of it," he said. "I don't think they'd want to go through that again. It's been a horrific ordeal for them."

The Union Democrat
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