The war over cannabis legalization is over, but in Napa county we’re still trying to add to the casualty list. The operator of a long-established medical cannabis dispensary in Vallejo is being prosecuted in Napa Superior Court for actions that voters in California long ago determined are legal. This waste of public resources should offend anyone’s sense of fairness, no matter how you feel about medical cannabis. Voters passed the Compassionate Use Act by initiative nearly twenty years ago, giving residents the right to grow or possess cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. In 2003 the Governor signed the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, which allows for the formation of patient collectives, or non-profit organizations, to provide cannabis to patients.
You may be among the dwindling minority who believe there is rampant abuse by the medical doctors who recommend cannabis to treat a variety of illnesses, but that is beside the point. Cultivation for an organization of such patients is legal under state law if no local ordinances are violated. Many patients are not able to grow and process the plants themselves and must rely on others in order to have the access to medicine that is their legal right. In Napa we are about to put a man on trial who made every attempt to keep faith with the voters and do things the right way on behalf of his patient community.
Hakeem Brown has been operating a medical cannabis dispensary in Vallejo since 2009 and has thousands of patients with legal recommendations as members. Vallejo voters passed Measure C in 2011 by more than a three to one margin, mandating a ten percent tax on gross sales of medical cannabis. Instead of implementing a regulatory ordinance to codify Measure C, the City helped conduct a series of raids by law enforcement personnel and in April of 2012 Mr. Brown’s dispensary was targeted. The inventory was confiscated and their bank account was frozen. In the spring of 2013, the resulting attempts at legal actions against the raided dispensaries were tossed out of court and their funds reinstated.
Needing to replace the lost inventory to serve their patients, Mr. Brown arranged to rent land near Lake Berryessa and began cultivation outdoors. The patient records and paperwork as required under state law were kept on the premises. His approach represents the desired alternative to organized criminal networks that degrade public lands with clandestine growing operations. Napa county had no ordinance of its own in place, which means the state laws applied, and Mr. Brown was in full compliance. So why would he be put on trial? That’s a good question for the District Attorney’s office.
In August of 2013 a raid was conducted at the Napa cultivation site which included some familiar faces from the year before. The entire inventory was again confiscated and the authorities discounted the paperwork as fake. Apparently they seized on the idea that a handful of patient addresses from cities like Los Angeles among the local addresses was somehow suspect. In fact it’s not unusual or suspicious at all. Inexplicably, Mr. Brown will now go on trial in Napa Superior Court on charges of cultivation and possession for sale as though this was a criminal enterprise, when in fact he was following the rules laid down by voters and the State Supreme Court long ago.
As taxpayers the cost of this frivolous prosecution is bad enough, but on a personal level we also become complicit in an injustice done in our name. Not only is Mr. Brown the head of a large and long established patient organization, he is the single father of a thirteen year old boy. We don’t need any more casualties from this failed public policy, and incarcerating him or depriving him of his livelihood would do nothing to serve the public interest. Mr. Lieberstein’s office should drop all charges against Mr. Brown immediately in the interest of decency and fairness. This war is over.