Matt Shotwell, Vallejo Dispensary Owner And Star Of 'Weed Country,' Has Charges Dismissed
Year-old criminal charges were dismissed Thursday against Matt Shotwell, a one-time operator of one of Vallejo's largest medical marijuana dispensaries.
Since February 2012, when the Vallejo Police Department's series of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries launched with Shotwell's arrest at Greenwell Cooperative dispensary, no operators have been convicted.
"Given the facts of this case ... the people feel they cannot prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Deputy District Attorney Jack Harris told Solano County Superior Court Judge Allan Carter. The judge's confirmation of the dismissal was met with applause from a small courtroom crowd of Shotwell supporters.
At least six dispensaries were raided and shut down, some several times, during the police stings last year. Cases relating to all six of those dispensaries have been dismissed since last summer. Similarly, a Fairfield dispensary case was dismissed this month, and a Vacaville dispensary operator was acquitted last April.
Shotwell, the 32-year-old star of the six-episode Discovery Channel reality show "Weed Country," was arrested and charged with three violations of state law concerning the transportation, distribution or possession of narcotics. He also was charged with two counts of marijuana cultivation, and one count each of possessing marijuana for sale and maintaining a site for marijuana distribution. His arrest came just weeks before a voter-approved Vallejo tax and fee on medical marijuana dispensary operators kicked in, on March 1, 2012.
Shotwell, with tears in his eyes Thursday, said he plans to take time to figure out his next steps, following his case's resolution. He later added that he is facing significant debt with his home mortgage, lawyer's bills and school loans.
In addition to the Greenwell Dispensary seizures, police also confiscated hundreds of marijuana plants, Shotwell's registered handgun, computers, $8,700 in cash, paraphernalia and edible products, among other items.
Shotwell said he had submitted asset forfeiture claims early on to have his possessions returned, but they were denied. With Thursday's case dismissal, he and his attorney will try again to recover whatever remains of the seized items, Shotwell said.
"I hope this gives people courage to stay in the business," Shotwell said of medical marijuana. "This is like the last nail in the coffin for the opponents of medical marijuana in Vallejo."
Vallejo police Capt. Ken Weaver disagreed with Shotwell's assessment, saying that the dismissed charges can be re-filed at a later time.
"If (Shotwell's) under the impression that we've stopped, then he's misinformed," Weaver said of medical marijuana dispensary investigations. "We will continue to investigate criminal activity that's out there. Their side has a difference of opinion (about medical marijuana laws), and eventually it's going to be decided in the California State Supreme Court."
The last known dispensary raid occurred in August. It is unclear how many dispensaries remain in operation around Vallejo, although some seven or eight dispensaries continued paying a city tax on marijuana sales last year after the raids slowed down, according to city officials.
Asked if his future plans include reopening a dispensary, Shotwell said he would not rule out the possibility.
Starring in a television show depicting the struggle between medical marijuana growers and law enforcement in northern California was a risk Shotwell said he was willing to take while his case was still in court. He did fear, however, that some would take the show as "poking" at them, and that he would be treated by the justice system as an example.
"I was hoping I'd get off, that was the trend," Shotwell said, referring to the previous dismissals. "(But) there were some variables that had me nervous."
Marijuana, Not Yet Legal for Californians, Might as Well Be
LOS ANGELES — Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug. Marijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California
No matter that its recreational use remains technically against the law. Marijuana has, in many parts of this state, become the equivalent of a beer in a paper bag on the streets of Greenwich Village. It is losing whatever stigma it ever had and still has in many parts of the country, including New York City, where the kind of open marijuana use that is common here would attract the attention of any passing law officer.
“It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor. “These are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people. Increasingly, people are willing to share how they use it and not be ashamed of it.”
Marijuana can be smelled in suburban backyards in neighborhoods from Hollywood to Topanga Canyon as dusk falls — what in other places is known as the cocktail hour — often wafting in from three sides. In some homes in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, it is offered at the start of a dinner party with the customary ease of a host offering a chilled Bombay Sapphire martini.
Lighting up a cigarette (the tobacco kind) can get you booted from many venues in this rigorously antitobacco state. But no one seemed to mind as marijuana smoke filled the air at an outdoor concert at the Hollywood Bowl in September or even in the much more intimate, enclosed atmosphere of the Troubadour in West Hollywood during a Mountain Goats concert last week.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor, ticked off the acceptance of open marijuana smoking in a list of reasons he thought Venice was such a wonderful place for his morning bicycle rides. With so many people smoking in so many places, he said in an interview this year, there was no reason to light up one’s own joint.
“You just inhale, and you live off everyone else,” said Mr. Schwarzenegger, who as governor signed a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Some Californians react disdainfully to anyone from out of state who still harbors illicit associations with the drug. Bill Maher, the television host, was speaking about the prevalence of marijuana smoking at dinner parties hosted by Sue Mengers, a retired Hollywood agent famous for her high-powered gatherings of actors and journalists, in an interview after her death last year. “I used to bring her pot,” he said. “And I wasn’t the only one.”
When a reporter sought to ascertain whether this was an on-the-record conversation, Mr. Maher responded tartly: “Where do you think you are? This is California in the year 2011.”
John Burton, the state Democratic chairman, said he recalled an era when the drug was stigmatized under tough antidrug laws. He called the changes in thinking toward marijuana one of the two most striking shifts in public attitude he had seen in 40 years here (the other was gay rights).
“I can remember when your second conviction of having a single marijuana cigarette would get you two to 20 in San Quentin,” he said.
In a Field Poll of California voters conducted in October 2010, 47 percent of respondents said they had smoked marijuana at least once, and 50 percent said it should be legalized. The poll was taken shortly before Californians voted down, by a narrow margin, an initiative to decriminalize marijuana.
“In a Republican year, the legalization came within two points,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked on the campaign in favor of the initiative. He said that was evidence of the “fact that the public has evolved on the issue and is ahead of the pols.”
A study by the California Office of Traffic Safety last month found that motorists were more likely to be driving under the influence of marijuana than under the influence of alcohol.
Still, there are limits. No matter how much attitudes in California may have changed, it remains illegal in most of the country — as Californians have been reminded by a series of crackdowns by the Justice Department on medical marijuana here. People who use the drug recreationally, who said they would think nothing of offering a visitor a joint upon walking through the door, declined to be quoted by name, citing the risks to career and professional concerns.
That was the case even as they talked about marijuana becoming commonly consumed by professionals and not just, as one person put it, activists and aging hippies. Descriptions of marijuana being offered to arriving guests at parties, as an alternative to a beer, are common.
In places like Venice and Berkeley, marijuana has been a cultural presence, albeit an underground one, since the 1960s. It began moving from the edges after voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996.
That has clearly been a major contributor to the mainstreaming of marijuana. There is no longer any need for distasteful and legally compromising entanglements with old-fashioned drug dealers, several marijuana users said, because it is now possible to buy from a medical marijuana shop or a friend, or a friend of a friend growing it for ostensibly medical purposes.
That has also meant, several users said,¸that the quality of marijuana is more reliable and varied, and there are fewer concerns about subsidizing a criminal network. It also means, it seems, prices here are lower than they are in many parts of the country.
Mr. Newsom — who said he did not smoke marijuana himself — said that the ubiquity of the drug had led him to believe that laws against it were counterproductive and archaic. He supports its legalization, a notable position for a Democrat widely considered one of the leading contenders to be the next governor.
“These laws just don’t make sense anymore,” he said. “It’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”
In heartland of legal marijuana movement, doubts linger, poll suggests
A new poll in the heart of the nationwide pro-marijuana movement finds that attitudes have not changed appreciably since California voters defeated a citizen’s initiative to legalize pot in 2010.
The University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found 46 percent of California voters in favor of “general or recreational use by adults” and 50 percent against. In 2010, Proposition 19 – which would have made California the first state to allow marijuana for casual use – failed with 54 percent against and 46 percent in favor.
Pro-marijuana activists had hoped that those numbers might have shifted during the past two years. A recent national poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 56 percent of respondents favored legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are regulated; 36 percent were opposed.
How much do you know about marijuana? A quiz.
The USC poll appears to dash those hopes, though pro-marijuana activists say the numbers reflect fear of marijuana without regulation or rules.
“The word, ‘legalization’ implies a lack of rules, and nowhere in the California poll question is any mention of, or comparison to, a regulatory system,” says Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, via e-mail.
Meanwhile, anti-marijuana groups say they are glad the numbers haven’t budged.
“In all my years of working as a clinician at Scripps, we have yet to see a patient come through who doesn’t attribute his addiction to having started with marijuana as a gateway drug,” says Nancy Knott, a teen drug counselor with Scripps Alcohol and Treatment Center in La Jolla, Calif. “These new statistics are going to be played with and spun until the public simply stands up and says, 'Let’s quit thinking about how to feel good and start thinking about the teenagers who are dying from drug addiction.' ”
The poll also showed that 80 percent of California voters support doctor-recommended use for severe illness. California was the first of 14 states to approve marijuana for medical purposes. But those against it say the law is too lax in regulating the doctors who issue the cards.
“If I had a nickel for every teenager who easily flipped out their medical marijuana card, I would be a rich woman,” says Ms. Knott.
Tod Burke, a professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University in Virginia, says the poll can be read either way.
"Proponents will indicate that almost half of the population supports the legalization of marijuana for 'general or recreational use by adults,' while opponents will note that the majority of the population opposes the measure," he says. Both "will push for their own agenda."
Former Judge to File Initiative to Regulate Marijuana
Less talk, more action. I hope he can do something from RETIREMENT. -UA
Retired Superior Court judge wants marijuana strictly regulated and kept away from minors and will file voter initiative Wednesday with Attorney General to regulate marijuana like wine
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif., May 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- He was once a determined drug warrior, but now former Assistant US Attorney and Superior Court Judge James P. Gray believes the time has come to take marijuana out of the black market and regulate it instead. After years of witnessing the harm caused by outlawing marijuana, Judge Gray will file a voter initiative this Wednesday with the California Attorney General's office that will regulate marijuana like wine.
A press conference has been scheduled for 11AM in front of the AG's office at 1300 I Street. Also present at the press conference will be the initiative's principle author and chief counsel, William McPike, as well as the chief officer for the campaign, Steve Kubby.
"Our policy of marijuana prohibition has failed from every standpoint imaginable: unnecessary prison growth, increased taxes, increased crime and corruption here and abroad, loss of civil liberties, decreased health, and diversion of resources that are needed to address other problems in society," Gray said.
Gray added that he is especially concerned about the disastrous effects of outlawing marijuana on families and kids, effects he has witnessed for himself as a judge and federal prosecutor. "Far from protecting our children, our present policy is actually recruiting them to a lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling," charged Gray.
The former Orange County judge will file a new voter initiative that will regulate and tax marijuana like wine, keep it from those under 21 years of age and provide for billions of new dollars in state sales tax from the regulated sales of marijuana. Recently, the Franchise Tax Board reported that state taxes just from medical marijuana dispensaries now amounts to over $100 millionper year.
When challenged over the wisdom of allowing for sales to adults 21 and older, Gray has no doubts that it is time to regulate marijuana and take it out of the black market. "Many things in our society are dangerous, but making them illegal is not the answer. Does anyone really believe that making tobacco illegal would reduce the harm it causes? What about glue, gasoline, chain saws and high cholesterol foods? Further, if you think about it, we have at least some controls with regard to the sales and use of alcohol and tobacco, because they are regulated by the government. We have no controls at all with marijuana, because it is currently controlled by the mob," Gray emphasized.
A copy of Judge Gray's voter initiative and one minute video can be viewed at the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine website:http://regulatemarijuanalikewine.com/.