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Mendocino pot club deliveries run afoul of Sonoma deputies


Northstone Organics, a medical marijuana cooperative based in Mendocino County, appears to be about as legitimate as such an organization can be.

Matthew Cohen takes cuttings from marijuana plants in order to clone them at the Northstone Organics Cooperative, in Redwood Valley, in 2010 (Christopher Chung / PD)

It has a Mendocino County Sheriff’s permit to grow medical marijuana as a cooperative, undergoes county inspections and its plants are tagged with Sheriff’s Office zip ties, a measure aimed at protecting them from being seized by law enforcement.

“If what Northstone Organics is doing isn’t legal, no collective or cooperative is legal,” said Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen, who spearheaded the county’s medical marijuana permit program.

But the legal precautions, which cost the cooperative about $8,500 a year, could not guarantee safe passage of marijuana through Sonoma County.

Daniel Harwood, 33, of Willits, and Timothy Tangney, 29, of Lucerne, were twice stopped by Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies in October while driving through Sonoma County on their way to deliver medicinal pot to co-op members in the Bay Area. Both are members of the cooperative.

The two, who were stopped on consecutive days, were told they were pulled over for traffic violations: speeding in one case and not using a turn signal in the second instance. Deputies said the smell of pot led them to search the vehicles, confiscate the marijuana and issue citations to the alleged offenders.

Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, who is reprenting the two drivers, said something else is at play.

“They’ve been profiling young people driving in rental cars,” he said of sheriff’s deputies.

Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas denied the profiling allegation.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Harwood and Tangney each are facing two felony counts of transportation of marijuana for sale and possession with intent to sell.

They were carrying about 2.3 pounds of marijuana packaged mostly in one-ounce bags, each labeled with the names of 35 patients for whom they were destined. The labels included price tags of approximately $275 each, said Matt Cohen, the founder and chief executive officer of the 1,400-member cooperative.

Everything they were doing was legal, Panzer said.

But not everyone interprets medical marijuana law the same way.

“It’s extremely fuzzy,” said McCowen, the county supervisor.

“I would love for direction to be given to us from either the courts or state Legislature that gives us consistent guidelines for transportation,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

Issues surrounding medical marijuana transportation, financial compensation and dispensaries remain muddy 15 years after voters legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, he said.

Panzer said it’s clear enough to know that charges against his client should be dropped.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch declined to discuss the case but said her office respects the rights of legitimate medical marijuana patients.

“I support safe access to medical marijuana,” she said.

She also said that prosecuting marijuana cases that don’t involve violence is a low priority for her office.

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster said he doesn’t have enough information to comment specifically on the Northstone case. But transporting marijuana to cooperative members is permitted under state Attorney General medical marijuana guidelines, he said.

“Even assuming simply for the sake of argument that the guidelines are wrong, I personally believe it is bad policy to prosecute people who may have relied on the written policy guidelines of the California Attorney General,” he said.

7 Responses to “Mendocino pot club deliveries run afoul of Sonoma deputies”

  1. Natalie says:

    As a state of the union, we have exercised our democratic vote and the majority has spoken to allow safe access to cannabis for medical use. How do they think these delivery services and dispensaries serve their patients, maybe a stork delivers medicine? Where are our rights? How can anyone who grows, delivers, dispenses, or uses, ever feel safe in this state, or any of the 16 medicinal cannabis states? The state and Federal governments need to agree to disagree so everyone is clear on the rules by which to play this game. If you want some real news and info go to http://www.cannabisnews.org where they have all the current info on this movement to decriminalize marijuana, clear out our overcrowded jails, and move this drug off the schedule for controlled substances. This confusion and craziness has got to stop but since it is big business for our local, state, and federal governments it will be an uphill battle worth fighting.
    The people will eventually have their way, just may take some time. xo

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  2. Dan Delgado says:

    Steve is right. If I was hauling contraband (even if I thought it shouldn’t be), I’d set the cruise control at the posted limit, signal all turns and lane changes, and be sure all lights were working. It’s just stupid to draw attention to yourself under those circumstances.

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  3. RAW says:

    It is clearly time for more regulation, just like other medicinal drugs. Yes, cocaine is used in the medical industry. Regulate the weed like medicinal drugs, since that is what they are for. Get a prescription and go to the pharmacy. This is how it should have been. Then the suppliers will have proper direction on record keeping and the state will get the almighty tax it craved when this was legalized.

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  4. Stop Crying says:

    Clearly the law is NOT CLEAR. But what is clear is that no arrests should be made until the law is clear. The case should be dismissed. If it is a crime, then write the law, post it , and then enforce it. The messages are so confusing that even the neighboring DA’s are doing different things and the Attorney General’s Office does not support this action by the Sonoma County Deputies. Not long ago, the CITY OF BERKELEY was growing its own pot and the contracted grower was arrested by DEA. He was charged in federal court and he was prohibited from telling the Jury that he was actually being paid by the City of Berkeley to grow the pot for legal purposes (medical distribution by the City). He was then convicted. The Jury was outraged when they found out he was really employees by the city to grow the pot! Hello, what is going on here????

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  5. Steve Klausner says:

    This calls for some basic employee training. The rules are simple. If you are carrying drugs stay within the speed limit, always fully stop at stop signs, make sure auto is properly registered and the tail lights are working.

    Northstone Organics might also consider making their drivers submit to a drug test, as do all legitimate transport businesses.

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  6. Dogs Rule says:

    Leave them alone and go catch some rapists for a change.

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  7. Jerry says:

    Let’s see $275 for 35 clients that’s over $9600.00, almost ten grand. Not bad for a days drive. Tell me again they’re just helping the sick.

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