The New Year Starts Poorly for Medical Cannabis
By Jesse B. Gill
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you’ll have to forgive us for kicking off 2013 with some sad news for medical cannabis advocates and cannabis rights proponents.
Last week, a U.S. District judge sentenced Aaron Sandusky, former president of Upland-based G3 Holistics, Inc., to 10 years in prison. Sandusky, 43, was convicted in October of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cannabis.
As Colorado and Washington recently made cannabis A-OK for recreational use (under an ounce, adults 21+), there’s still that pesky federal law that still makes everyone’s favorite herb a big “no-no.” Sandusky’s case brings that imbalance into sharp focus.
Medical cannabis is legal in California (as I’m sure many readers are already aware). Passed in 1996, Proposition 215 was meant to protect medical cannabis patients along with the collectives and dispensaries who provide the plant.
But Prop. 215 did nothing to protect Sandusky from federal prosecutors or the jury or the judge. He was charged, tried and convicted of violating federal law, which, the argument goes, supersedes state law.
Many Weekly readers are aware of Sandusky’s story. But for those who aren’t, the man ran his G3 locations in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley.
In September 2011, the city of Upland filed an injunction against Sandusky in a bid to shut down G3. A month later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent Sandusky a letter, warning him that his G3 dispensaries violated federal law.
Sandusky closed up shop in Colton and Moreno Valley but kept Upland open and the feds raided the shop—twice, along with a grow operation in Ontario, seizing thousands of dollars in assets, according to federal prosecutors. That June, Sandusky (along with his brother and a handful of other G3 staffers) were arrested and indicted on a handful of federal drug trafficking charges.
Some of those charges were eventually dismissed but a few of the big ones stuck. And this October, a jury convicted him (of the charges we’ve already mentioned).
During the trial, Sandusky’s supporters offered their, well, support and the prosecution made quick work of him. In a memo filed with the court, prosecutors called Sandusky “ . . . an unrepentant manipulator who used the perceived ambiguity surrounding ‘medical’ cannabis to exploit a business opportunity for himself.”
Of course, that “ambiguity” they mentioned at least in part involves the fact that selling medical cannabis is legal in California under Prop. 215 (provided the seller operates under its guidelines) and the very same act is a pretty serious federal crime (thanks, Controlled Substances Act).
And while explaining this difference or possibly even discussing it in front of the jury may have spared Sandusky a decade behind bars, he wasn’t even allowed to bring it up. Neither was his attorney. District Court Judge Percy Anderson wouldn’t allow it, saying California laws didn’t play in the big-boy federal courthouse. He barred Sandusky and his attorney from really making any argument in their defense other than their belief that what the federal government had put them through was unconstitutional.
And so, at his Jan. 7 sentencing, Anderson handed down Sandusky’s fate, which was actually the minimum sentence given the convictions—a life sentence was the maximum. He was already in custody during the hearing. He attended in prisoner’s garb, with handcuffs on his hands and feet. His supporters cried openly as he apologized to the people involved in the case, saying they had all been “victimized by the federal government that does not recognize the voters of this state.”
He gave the thumbs-up to his supporters as he was led away. And that was it. He’ll serve 10 years for (as he claims) abiding by the laws of California in providing a controversial medicine to patients all over the Inland Empire.
Of course, Judge Anderson saw things differently. In a sentencing memo, he wrote that Sandusky “used G3 as a means to replace the vast income he lost from the collapse of his real estate business,” and that he “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 (Sandusky’s) continued and sustained criminality,” Anderson wrote.
Sandusky (and his supporters) stand firm in their claim that they fight a constitutional battle. In previous interviews, Sandusky almost seemed reserved to the possibility of doing hardcore prison time as a result of the fight.
And he’s not alone in that fight. Federal prosecutors have filed charges against people in at least three other cases where state laws permitting the sale of medical cannabis were overridden by federal law.
For now, the federal government isn’t budging.
Sandusky will likely serve his sentence at a federal prison in Victorville. The five other defendants charged in the same case—including G3 co-owner John Leslie Nicholls—pleaded guilty to similar charges before trial. Anderson is supposed to sentence them later this month.
And the battle for medicinal cannabis continues . . .
Contact Jesse B. Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IEW_WatchDog.