AVista man facing federal drug charges for operating a medical marijuana dispensary was dealt a legal blow this week. U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, the federal judge overseeing the proceedings against James Stacy, issued a ruling that will deny Stacy’s lawyer from presenting the “Obama-said-I-can” argument, known as entrapment by estoppel (essentially, when an official grants legal permission to do something and then arrests them for it) as a defense at trial.
with pot ordinances.
The judge’s motion also set limits on evidence that could be presented at trial to demonstrate Stacy’s compliance with state law.
The Movement in Action pot collective founder is the first to go to trial after the Obama administration ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop raiding dispensaries in states where medical marijuana was legal.
Supporters of medical marijuana across the country see Stacy’s trial as a test case for the future of pot-shop litigation.
Last year on September 9, during a sting operation called Operation Endless Summer, more than a dozen dispensaries were raided. Stacy was arrested after an undercover narcotics officer bought weed from Stacy’sshop. But Stacy argued that all transactions at his collective met the legal standards of the state.
“There was nobody ever in my collective that wasn’t a verified patient,” he says.
Stacy was charged with conspiracy to grow and sell marijuana, growing marijuana, and the possession of a firearm in the furtherance of his pot operation. Stacy says the gun was registered when he purchased it in Texas.
“It’s a totally legally owned gun,” he says.
Attorney Kasha Castillo told a reporter that her client’s defense was not intended as legal maneuvering but rather a as a reflection that Stacy believed that he was in full compliance with local, state and federal laws. At his hearing in December, Stacy, who has been free on a forty thousand dollar property bond told the court that he contacted the Secretary of State’s office, the state Attorney General’s office, and that he had hired an attorney to make certain that his collective was in compliance.
“When I first heard about this kind of business,” he says, “I thought I was the right person for it because I do everything by the rules. I wait until the light changes to cross the street.”
Stacy, 46, a Dallas native, lives in Vista where he teaches martial arts. A medical marijuana user himself, Mr. Stacy had opened his Movement in Action dispensary and collective only a few months before the drug raid shut him down.
Of the more than 30 Operation Endless Summer arrests, only two marijuana dispensary owners were brought up on federal charges.Joseph Nunespleaded guilty in December of last year in exchange for a one-year prison sentence and three years probation. Stacy declined a similar plea deal that would have also culminated in his spending a year behind bars.
Jovan Jackson, another dispensary operator busted September 9 was acquitted of state charges by a local jury.
California was the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. But state government’s direction has been to leave regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries up to individual jurisdictions. California pot law therefore is a patchwork quilt of confusion.
The crackdown of local law enforcement last September was due in part to a sudden proliferation of marijuana storefronts in neighborhoods countywide (and elsewhere in California) after the Obama administration, in the evidence of growing public pressure to legalize marijuana, announced that they would cease to prosecute medical marijuana collectives and their customers.
But in spite of Obama’s moratorium, pot to this day remains a Schedule One controlled substance.
David Speckman is a San Diego attorney in private practice who represents more than a dozen medical marijuana collectives. He says that Obama’s good intentions aside, federal law is unchanged and that as such, possession is still illegal, medical marijuana recommendation or not. Earlier, he told SanDiego.com that “What [the feds] are saying is that for purposes of medical marijuana, they are going to defer to the states but with a very important caveat: that one may believe that they are in full compliance with state law and still run amiss of the federal law.”
“What the bust is about,” says Stacy, “is whether the DEA can ignore what the President says and continue to harass medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Alex Kreit chaired the city council’s Medical Marijuana Task Force.
“Though Attorney General [Eric] Holder’s memo stated that the federal government would not go after individuals who were operating in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, Mr. Stacy will not have the opportunity to present evidence in federal court that his actions were lawful under state law,” he says. “The San Diego U.S. Attorney’s office should explain why it is not abiding by Attorney General Holder’s directive and has instead decided to use previous federal law enforcement resources to interfere with California’s medical marijuana law.”
“Unless and until federal law changes,” says Kreit, “there will always be a danger that overzealous federal prosecutors will target medical marijuana caregivers like Mr. Stacy.”
“This is aging me in ways you don’t even know,” says Stacy. “My poor wife, she’s starting to get gray hair. We both have upset stomachs all the time.”
Trial has been set for August 30.