Marvin Chavez, founder of the Orange County Cannabis Co-op, was arrested in his home last Thursday night and has been charged with eight felony counts of conspiracy and marijuana sales. Chavez, who has operated the co-op out of his home since the passage of proposition 215 in November of 1996, was released Friday on his own recognizance. In order to comply with a recent court decision which declared sales of medicinal marijuana, the co-op has been accepting donations from patients rather than charging for their services.
In Thousand Oaks, California, Mayor Mike Markey and City councilman Andy Fox sent a letter requesting that federal prosecutors investigate the Ventura County Medical Cannabis Center. "Since our society has spent considerable time and effort to teach children to 'Just Say No' to these drugs, we fear the impact that these unregulated facilities will have on our local children" the letter said.
Advocates note that the only reason "unregulated" medical marijuana outlets exist in the first place is that despite the passage of the initiative, there has been no regulated distribution scheme put into place by state or local officials in California. The recent federal court decision, which has led to a civil lawsuit against six currently operating outlets, makes it illegal for patients to procure marijuana by any means outside of growing their own, or having a friend grow it for them. This, according to medical marijuana patients and activists, constitutes an unreasonable burden on an affected population which includes many seriously and terminally ill people.
Supporters of Chavez insist that the Orange County Co-op provided marijuana only to those with a demonstrated medical need. Chavez, through his attorney, Bob Kennedy, said that "the club will continue to meet its obligation for those unfortunate individuals who are in need of medicinal marijuana." Prosecuting Deputy D.A. Carl Armbrust, however, seemed determined to make sure that everyone involved would face criminal penalties. "We know that Chavez has some volunteers" he told the Orange County Register, "we're trying to figure out where they are and if they're going to continue this co-op."
Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights, told The Week Online, "For the police, shutting down these distribution facilities is like shooting fish in a barrel. They have been operating openly and counting on the good will of local officials to work with them in finding the most appropriate ways to implement the law. Obviously, that faith is not being rewarded. The truth is, however, that even if federal and local authorities are successful in shutting down every one of these outlets, the need for, and the procurement of marijuana for medicinal use is not going to disappear, it will simply recede back underground, which will, of course, have serious consequences for a lot of seriously and terminally ill people. What will disappear is the opportunity to regulate distribution, and thus to insure that medicinal marijuana stays out of the hands that the government claims to be so concerned with."