Livin’ the scandal

Speaking of our grotesque rates of incarceration in the US – here’s a guy in California who was legally growing legal marijuana for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries, who has been sentenced to two years in the slammer.

Robert Duncan moved from Los Angeles to Northern California in 2010 to manage marijuana growing operations for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries. Although California voters legalized medical cannabis more than 17 years ago, the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration launched a renewed crackdown on marijuana in California in 2011.

That October, Duncan’s grow house was raided. A few months later, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner indicted him and others involved in the dispensary business on the grounds that it had grown too large. Despite California’s struggle with prison overcrowding, and despite new federal guidelines that say size should no longer be considered in prosecution decisions, Duncan, 31, was sentenced to two years in prison. He is scheduled to report to Mendota Federal Correctional Institution near Fresno, Calif., on Monday afternoon.

What is wrong with us?

Duncan reports his version:

I honestly had some stereotypes of what I expected to see when I got into the business — people who probably really didn’t need marijuana for medicinal purposes. But I was actually quite surprised to see people who were battling cancer, in wheelchairs, suffering from chronic pain from car accidents. It was quite justified. We had thousands and thousands of members of our cooperatives.

We hired lawyers from day one. We were entirely compliant with state law. It was shortly after the federal government said it would not intervene if people followed state law. We wanted to abide by the rules. None of us had criminal backgrounds. We’re all regular guys. The only reason we got into this was because the federal government said they wouldn’t intervene.

One of our stores in Sacramento, Medizen, was broken into once, and robbed once. Both times the police responded and police reports were filed, proving we were interacting with law enforcement like any other business would.

What’s the thinking here? Jobs for prison guards make this kind of thing totally worth it?


  1. Shatterface says

    The maximum ‘penalty’ for growing weed should be taxation – the same as any other business – and those growing it for medicinal purposes should be exempt of even that.

    My drug of choice is real ale; there are some fantastic micro-breweries in the UK. That’s really the model I’d propose for the growing and marketing of cannabis.

  2. hemlock says

    “Obama’s War On Weed”? Looking at that, more fact checking is needed. That is just hyperbole. Not from the US, but I’ve been to California and the whole medical thing is a joke and simply a front for the sellers to sell to anyone, including apparently to minors. Any compliance with regulations doesn’t seem to exist, some of the figures I’ve seen show more than 90% that access these “pharmacies” don’t have medical conditions like cancer or MS where it could potentially help.

    If marijuana is really for medical use, then it is relevant for authorities to set regulations and also enforce them by ensuring that the those that profit off this actually follow them. For a starter, they’ve sent warning notes about such things as operating too close to schools. That seems to be a fairly simple thing to comply with. But no, that’s a “crackdown”. If they want it to be legal then instead of writing screeds they could lobby to legalise completely instead of protesting that they have to operate within the law instead of just profiting off selling freely with only lip service paid to providing it for medical purposes.

    “I paid about $800 to consult with a lawyer who specializes in this field before I said yes,” Duncan wrote. “He said, ‘You know, they don’t really raid anymore, these things are fewer and fewer far between.’ “If they do go after people, he said, they go after the kingpin, the person who’s in charge of everything.”

    As for Duncan, I don’t know if the claims holds that he did all the right thing and is just an innocent victim. In his own words, what he thought and the advice he received seem to show he did know that there was definite proposition the operation was dodgy and could breach laws. Then based on the advice he got, he decided there was low to no risk of him getting caught. And even in the situation where they did get sprung, they based their reasoning on that if they did get caught others would be in the firing line. As he says “The only reason we got into this was because the federal government said they wouldn’t intervene.”

    Well, you can’t bank on that when bypassing the law. Problem is that the US government according to the linked article said it wouldn’t intervene with patients or caregivers that act in compliance with laws to supply it too them, which is rather different. Different enough that they could validly lay charges. That being said, there’s the another issue and that is imprisonment which seems to be something that could and perhaps should be changed being rather heavy handed for what is a non-violent offence.

    According to the prosecutor: “Unfortunately, he received legal advice about this activity only from those with a financial interest in the marijuana industry and drank the Coolaide [sic] with those around him,” Bender, the federal prosecutor who works under U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner, wrote in the sentencing memo.

    “In the end, he was soon involved in a fast growing illegal business that caught the attention of law enforcement,” Bender wrote. “In the end, defendant Duncan did not exercise mature judgment but, given his age and circumstances, his faulty decision making is somewhat easier to understand.”

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