Blurred lines in focus, People v. Mitchell
Law Enforcement and Legal Professionals in the medical cannabis community recently have been buzzing over this new and important case. People v. Mitchell draws a great deal of attention because it addresses the ambiguities associated with growers.
This is one of the most restrictive interpretations of the law that I've seen in a published case. Though it pays lip service to precedent that says storefront dispensaries are allowed, its holding seems to leave most anyone involved in a dispensary open to criminal charges in California.
Mitchell is a medical cannabis patient and part of a collective organized as a for-profit corporation. At some point, it became apparent to the collective's owner that they needed more cannabis for their patients and so he entered into an agreement with Mr. Mitchell. Their notarized contract, drafted by an attorney, stated Mitchell would cultivate cannabis for the collective.
Mitchell began by creating a new business identity with the IRS and the Board of Equalization, known as Hermetics, Inc., located out of his residence. On the forms, he claimed an expected income of $5,000 a month or $60,000 a year. He then rented out a location in San Fernando, took out a sellers permit and business license for a custom guitar and drum shop, and built a cannabis growing facility.
Shortly thereafter, a burglary was reported at the San Fernando cannabis grow facility. Police officers responded to the location and noticed the grow operation. Mitchell arrived at the location, cooperated with police officers, and explained his agreement with the collective and that he owned the plants. Police seized less than 200 plants in different stages of growth, several lighting equipment, and fans from the premises.
Then, Mitchell was charged and convicted with conspiracy to cultivate cannabis for sales. Mitchell appealed arguing protection under the Medical Marijuana Program Act, but on April 29, appeals court upheld the conviction.
THIS IS WHY . . .
The first problem with Mitchell's defense was that he was attempting to provide cannabis for a collective organized as a for-profit corporation. Although the Compassionate Use Act does not necessarily require a collective to be a non-profit, the Attorney General's guidelines does. Second, Mr. Mitchell created his own business to grow cannabis and called it Hermetics. He filed his business location at his residence, but physically established the grow operation in San Fernando. Additionally, to comply with California law, the plants must be jointly owned by the patients. Here, Mitchell told the officers he owned the plants and was planning to sell the cultivated cannabis to the collective he was a part of. Even though Mitchell had his medical cannabis recommendation, he exceeded the amount of cannabis an individual may possess under California law. Furthermore, he was not a caregiver to anyone, nor was he registered to be one. Lastly, neither the collective he belonged to, nor the collective's patients, had any other association with him or his cultivation operation other than the two contracts that were drafted.
Why People v. Mitchell is Relevant to Current Medical Marijuana Cultivation Laws
In sum, Mitchell was not protected under the Medical Marijuana Program Act because 1) he claimed to own the plants, when the plants should be jointly owned by patients 2) the collective he contracted with was a for-profit corporation and 3) he was dishonest in his business permit.
People v. Mitchell re-emphasizes the blurry lines growers must operate within as well as the importance of knowing the law, asserting your right to remain silent and contacting a medical cannabis professional to make sure you're operating in compliance with the law.
The Mitchell ruling further highlights the urgent need for state legislation to clarify the legality of medical cannabis cultivation and sales through state regulation, as proposed in pending bills by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (AB-1894) and Senator Lou Correa (SB-1262).
Meital Manzuri is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney, speaker and consultant for patients, collectives and dispensaries. If you have questions about medical cannabis or any other criminal defense matters, she can be contacted via phone at (310) 601-3140 or Manzurilaw.com.
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