Medical Pot Vendor Gets 10 Years In Federal Prison
A medical marijuana dispensary owner in California was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison this month for drug dealing, even though he wasn’t breaking any state laws.
Aaron Sandusky, 43, operated three G3 Holistics stores in Southern California that provided medicinal marijuana for 17,000 patients. Drug Enforcement Agency operatives raided Sandusky’s shops in 2011 and arrested him on a number of federal manufacturing and distribution charges.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 and Sandusky was not charged with violating any state laws. Of course, pot is still illegal under federal law, and while the U.S. government can’t force California to enforce federal law, it can send its own agents in to do the job and try defendants in federal court.
Sandusky could have faced as much as life in prison but Judge Percy Anderson instead gave him 10 years, the fewest possible under federal minimum sentencing guidelines.
“In this case, as the defendant was warned, the court’s hands are tied,” Anderson said. “Whether you agree with the defendant’s position or not.”
Prosecutors smeared Sandusky as a scruple-free profiteer, writing in a memo, “Defendant built a veneer of legitimacy around his criminal enterprise using his customers’ good-faith search for pain relief. There is absolutely no altruistic component to defendant’s continued and sustained criminality.”
Sandusky made a distinctly unapologetic apology after his sentencing. “I want to apologize to those with me and their families who have been victimized by the federal government who has not recognized the voters of this state,” he told the court.
Four U.S. Attorneys have been waging a war for two years now to shut down dispensaries in California, despite President Obama’s promise to not circumvent state laws on medical marijuana after his initial election in 2008. A 2009 Justice Department memo even said that federal attorneys “should not focus federal resources in [their] states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” However, hundreds of retail stores in California have closed their doors since the feds started ratcheting up the pressure in 2011.
Sandusky’s conviction is a departure, however, as the normal tactics the U.S. Attorneys use are intimidation and asset seizure to scare off pot facilities without actually bringing them to court. In his case, they decided that charges were the way to go. His trial is only the fourth instance of prosecution for operating a dispensary in a state that allows medical marijuana– there has been one other case in California, one in Montana and one in Michigan. All have resulted in convictions.
“Aaron was in full compliance with California law, but the federal government says that California law is irrelevant,” Sandusky’s attorney Roger Diamond said.
The defense had tried to convince the jury that Sandusky was a victim of entrapment, based on Obama’s promise to not interfere in medical marijuana and subsequent Department of Justice statements along the same lines. However, the judge disallowed the maneuver.
“He gave him the mandatory minimum of 10,” Diamond said. “I tried to get the judge to go below the minimum by arguing the sentence would be unconstitutional.”
Sandusky’s arrest came one day before a lawsuit he filed against the city of Upland over a dispensary ban that would have shut him down was due to be heard in court. He had previously closed his other two stores after receiving warning letters that he was in violation of federal law.
He is expected to appeal his conviction to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.