Guidelines won't help 2 charged in pot raid
Sellers of medical marijuana targeted
FEDERAL COURT — When the Department of Justice announced guidelines last week for federal prosecutors pursuing medical-marijuana cases, advocates for the medicinal use of the drug widely welcomed them.
With, perhaps, two exceptions — James Stacy and Joseph Nunes.
Stacy and Nunes are former providers of medical marijuana now facing federal charges for illegally selling the drug from storefront businesses they owned in Vista and San Diego.
Stacy and Nunes are the only two of about 30 people who were arrested during a raid of medical-marijuana collectives and dispensaries across San Diego County in September who are being prosecuted in federal court.
The new guidelines discourage — but don't prohibit — federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against individuals and businesses that are in compliance with state laws. But the guidelines will not get Stacy and Nunes off the hook.
Their cases will continue moving forward, said prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego. Prosecutors believe Nunes and Stacy were not complying with California's medical-marijuana law and, therefore, fall outside the protection of the guidelines.
Federal law does not recognize medical marijuana. But 14 states, including California, do. The tension between federal and state law has played out for years. The new guidelines mark a departure from previous federal policy in that they back off from using federal power to prosecute people who otherwise are following state laws.
Stacy's attorney still questions the decision to haul her client into federal court.
Stacy, 45, owns a martial arts studio on South Santa Fe Avenue in Vista. Earlier this year he opened Movement in Action, a medical-marijuana collective, in the back of the store.
Kasha Kastillo, Stacy's federal public defender, said Stacy was “absolutely attempting to comply with state law.” Kastillo said she has not been specifically told by prosecutors why her client was indicted on charges of distributing and conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
“Based on the information in the (warrants), he was not making it a secret he was opening the collective and was trying to do so legally,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Schopler declined to comment on details of the case.
Affidavits supporting arrest and search warrants outline the case against Stacy. They were sworn out by an undercover San Diego County sheriff's detective who posed as a patient and went to the cooperative in June. The detective handed over a doctor's recommendation for the drug and after a few minutes was ushered into a room where he met Stacy.
Stacy told him he could legally sell him the drug as long as he had a valid doctor's recommendation, and he became a member of the cooperative.
The detective said in the warrant that he asked if he needed to work to help out the business. He said Stacy told him he could do odd jobs. The detective bought one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana, for $60, on that day, and the same amount on two other occasions in August, the warrant says.
The warrant says Stacy was not following state law because he did not fit the definition of a caregiver who can provide medical marijuana to patients.
The detective said a caregiver has to be an individual, and not a business, who has “consistently assumed responsibility” for taking care of another. Distributing the drug to someone only with a recommendation “on an ad hoc basis without any other relationship is not permitted,” the warrant says.
A search of the business also turned up a handgun. Under the new federal guidelines, the presence of a firearm is one element that can justify federal charges.
Nunes operated the Green Kross Collective at 3415 Mission Blvd. in San Diego. Police conducted undercover buys there, too.
Court records say Nunes has a criminal record for marijuana possession and sales, as well as theft, burglary and weapons charges. Under state law medical-marijuana collectives have to be nonprofit businesses, but investigators said they found that Nunes seemed to be profiting from the business.
There was $13,500 in cash in the store, the products of two days of sales. Nunes was living in a $4,000-per-month high-rise condominium, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson.
A search there uncovered $25,000 in cash, a pound of marijuana and a stash of human growth hormone. Nunes' attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
In all, 30 people were arrested in the Sept. 9 raids, and two people have been charged in state court. One, Wilber Jay Dawson, pleaded guilty Oct. 8 in San Diego Superior Court to one charge of possession of marijuana for sale. A second man, Jovan Christian Jackson, pleaded not guilty and has a court hearing set for Dec. 1. All of the other cases are under review, according to Paul Levikow, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office.
By Greg Moran
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER