Protests slam 'pot' arrests in California coastal county

San Luis Obispo TribuneJanuary 12, 2011 

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — A boisterous group of about 60 protesters advocating for medical marijuana rights gathered outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Tuesday chanting for “safe access” and hoisting signs — including one that read, “It’s medical, not criminal.”

The protesters were calling for the dismissal of charges against a dozen people arrested in late December after an investigation by the county’s Narcotic Task Force into alleged mobile marijuana dispensaries.

A two-month investigation into mobile medical marijuana dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County started in October, when a San Luis Obispo police detective, working undercover, visited a local doctor and complained of back pain.

According to search warrants, the detective received a recommendation for medical marijuana Oct. 8 from a San Luis Obispo physician — along with a list of medical marijuana delivery services available in the county.

Eleven weeks later, on Dec. 27, 45 to 50 officers started serving the search warrants over three days at seven locations. Fifteen people were arrested on various allegations of possessing and selling marijuana.

Two of the 12 San Luis Obispo County residents arrested last week on suspicion of distributing marijuana through a series of mobile dispensaries have been arraigned, according to officials with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. A majority of the 12 arrested have retained attorneys at a San Luis Obispo-based firm; their attorney said Tuesday that they received “appalling treatment” when officers from various law enforcement agencies arrested them at their homes Dec. 27. Three other people from Southern California were also arrested.

The investigation began after law enforcement agencies learned that several people were selling marijuana through mobile dispensaries in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Monterey counties, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo County Narcotic Task Force.

Prosecutors have chosen not to file charges against three people because of insufficient evidence, but they’ve returned the cases to investigators for possible further work, according to Jerret Gran of the District Attorney’s Office.

Protesters said the 15 people arrested in the raids, including 12 San Luis Obispo County residents, were conducting lawful operations and that the authorities are wasting taxpayer money by arresting and prosecuting them.

“They were not selling drugs behind your junior high schools, and they weren’t strapped with guns or pushing cocaine,” said Richard Donald, chairman of the San Luis Obispo chapter of Americans for Safe Access. “The majority of these fathers, mothers and grandparents were following the attorney general’s guidelines to the letter, or at least, to the very best of their ability and understanding.”

Gran said prosecutors are looking at each case and evaluating them separately.

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