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| 3 Nov 2009 08:28 xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx |
Re: Defense Attorney Christopher Darden joins The Foxx Firm
THE FOXX FIRM TO TAKE TO TRIAL LANDMARK MEDICAL MARIJUANA CASE
In People v. Hochanadel, (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 4 Dist., August 18, 2009), a California Court of Appeal considered whether (1) the MMPA unconstitutionally amended the CUA when it authorized “cooperatives” and “collectives” to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana, and (2) whether the trial court erred in quashing a search warrant for a storefront medical marijuana dispensary.
The Court held, in pertinent part, that the MMPA’s authorization of cooperatives and collectives does not amend the CUA, but rather, is a distinct statutory scheme intended to facilitate the transfer of medical marijuana to qualified patients and that the facts provided in the search warrant affidavit provided probable cause that the owners of the dispensary were engaged in criminal activity.
Stacy Hochanadel (“Defendant”) opened and operated CannaHelp, a marijuana dispensary, in the City of Palm Desert. CannaHelp employees received weekly training on the different strains of marijuana and offered advice to patients as to which strains were effective to treat specific ailments. Prior to making a purchase, customers were required to complete paperwork designating CannaHelp as their primary caregiver. All customers were required to have a valid doctor’s statement.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Detective Robert Garcia conducted a surveillance of CannaHelp when police observed a significant amount of buying activity from customers that were mostly young and without any observable health conditions. Detective Garcia sent an undercover police officer with a doctor’s statement into CannaHelp in order to observe the dispensary’s activities and the officer noted that the dispensary contained an ATM machine and the price of the marijuana was almost twice the price of marijuana sold on the streets. Detective Garcia executed an affidavit in support of a search warrant which detailed his investigation of CannaHelp and his opinion that CannaHelp was not a “primary caregiver” as contemplated by California law because it was a for-profit enterprise.
Based on evidence uncovered in the search, Defendant was charged with possession, transportation, and maintaining a business for the purpose of selling marijuana in violation of California State Law. Defendant filed a motion to quash the search warrant, which the trial court granted, holding that there was no probable cause for the warrant because (1) CannaHelp was a valid primary caregiver, operating in compliance with the law, and (2) Detective Garcia was not qualified to author the search warrant because he lacked training and understanding of medical marijuana laws. The trial court then dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
In rejecting the dispensary’s status as a lawful “primary caregiver,” the Court of Appeals first determined that the provisions of the MMPA authorizing cooperatives and collectives did not constitute an unconstitutional amendment to the CUA. The CUA defines a “primary caregiver” as “the individual designated by the person exempted under this section who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person.” The California Supreme Court requires that in order to be a primary caregiver, an individual must show that “he or she (1) consistently provided caregiving, (2) independent of any assistance in taking medical marijuana, (3) at or before the time he or she assumed responsibility for assisting with medical marijuana.” The Court determined a person must show “a caretaking relationship directed at the core survival needs of a seriously ill patient, not just one single pharmaceutical need.” The MMPA exempts patients, persons with valid medical marijuana identification cards and their primary caregivers who form collectives or cooperatives to cultivate marijuana from prosecution for several drug-related crimes. The MMPA further expounds on the CUA’s definition of a primary caregiver by stating that cooperatives shall not profit from the sale of marijuana. After reviewing additional guidelines set forth by the Attorney General, the court held that provisions of the MMPA relating to cooperatives and collectives did not constitute an amendment of the CUA because they did not alter the rights provided by the CUA.
Following this determination, the court held that, in this case, CannaHelp did not qualify as a primary caregiver because there was no evidence that CannaHelp or any of the Defendants had an existing, established relationship, providing for the housing, health or safety of its customers independent of the administration of medical marijuana.
The court also found that Detective Garcia was qualified to author the search warrant because (1) his conclusion that CannaHelp could not be a primary caregiver was correct and (2) he detailed his experience in narcotics investigations and accurately defined the term “primary caregiver,” which demonstrated a familiarity with the medical marijuana laws. The Court held that although Detective Garcia might not necessarily be competent to testify as an expert witness at trial, he was competent to author the search warrant affidavit.
In addition, the court held that the facts stated in Detective Garcia’s affidavit provided probable cause that the Defendants were engaged in criminal activity. First, purchasers were only required to complete a form designating CannaHelp as a primary caregiver. There was no evidence that purchasers had any other relationship with CannaHelp apart from the sale of marijuana or that they were actual members of a cooperative or collective. Second, evidence established that at least some of the marijuana offered for sale was purchased from an outside source, as opposed to from one or more of its own members. Third, the large number of transactions, the price of the marijuana, and the cash-only nature of the business provided reasonable grounds to believe that CannaHelp was not operating as a nonprofit enterprise. Consequently, the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule applies, even if facts discovered after issuing the warrant showed a lack of probable cause, because the executing officers had reasonable ground to believe they had probable cause at the time the search warrant was issued.