Pot Dispensary Owner Faces Life Sentence for Being Too Profitable


Medical marijuana dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky might be going to jail for a long, long time.

While President Obama made news last week by putting a temporary stop to the deportation of immigrants who've resided in the U.S. since childhood, Mike Riggs noted the inconsistency of the administration's refusal to apply a similar do-no-harm approach to medical marijuana.

Don't Make Money

Sandusky has the misfortune of sharing a surname with a news-making, alleged child molester, but he has the perhaps greater misfortune of potentially facing a prison sentence equally harsh to what Jerry Sandusky's might be. But instead of sexually abusing more than 50 young boys, Aaron Sandusky's alleged crime is simply that of supplying people with a product they want and legally are allowed to have in the state of California.

Sandusky, whom reason.tv profiled in this video, faced a post-arraignment hearing and a pre-trial hearing in two Los Angeles federal courtrooms on Monday, as did his brother Keith Alan Sandusky and four other employees of Sandusky's dispensary, G3 Holistic. According to the federal indictment, the Sandusky brothers each face six separate counts, and each of the defendants face counts that could also carry life sentences.

A group of about 30 friends and activists gathered outside of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, where the first hearing of the day occurred at about 8:30am. Among those gathered was Dan Forman, a friend and colleague of Sandusky's who, in the clip below, speculates about the motives of the DOJ and DEA in targeting G3.

"I really believe it was a case of the government believing that Aaron was commercializing and profiteering," he says.

Thom Mrozek, the press representative for the Department of Justice's Central California district, responded to questions about G3 Holistic with this emailed statement:

"Those associated with the G3 marijuana store ignored a series a warnings that the retail store in Upland was operating in violation of the law. Those warnings came from local officials, through letters from the Department of Justice, during the execution of search warrants and through civil lawsuits. The allegations of illegal activity are clearly laid out in the indictment."

But Forman's speculation seems consistent with past statements made by DOJ officials in describing the raids.

"The law has been hijacked by profiteers who are motivated not by compassion, but by money," said Melinda Haag, one of California's U.S. Attorneys, at a DOJ press conference on October 11, 2011.  

In other words, Haag isn't bothered by the concept of medical marijuana, so long as it remains safely in feel-good, nonprofit "collectives" where, supposedly, nobody makes a dime. Because Sandusky, a former real estate businessman, created a supply chain and a distribution network that provides his customers with high-quality, low-cost product—i.e., established a workable business model—he must be stopped.

Drugs aren't bad. But making money off drugs is bad, or something.

Too Many Governments, Too Much Corruption

While the medical marijuana fight is largely a battle between state and federal jurisdiction, the Sandusky case is even more complicated. Reason previously covered the problems that Sandusky had with his city government. The mayor of Upland, where the original G3 Holistic was located, was himself indicted on federal corruption charges after he allegedly attempted to extort Sandusky and other local business owners.

In 2010, Upland's city council attempted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries altogether, which triggered a series of legal challenges that landed the issue in California's Supreme Court in the form of Pack v. Long Beach. Until that case is decided, however, some dispensary owners, including Sandusky, believe they are allowed to stay open unless the city can prove they are acting illegally under California state law.

This raises the question, are city officials colluding with the the DEA and other federal agencies to do the dirty work while their hands are tied? Nothing in the federal indictment indicates that Sandusky was engaging in activity inconsistent with state law, though these are precisely the sorts of operations Attorney General Eric Holder promised that DOJ wouldn't target. Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access tackles that question in the clip below.

"What this feels like is retribution," says Duncan. "Because what we have here are collectives that are fighting with the city over what are basically land use and license issues, really local issues."

Stalling Tactics

The Sandusky brothers have been sitting in prison since last Thursday. Aaron Sandusky, a soft-spoken, 42-year-old man with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, looked downright haggard and defeated as he sat in court wearing an orange 2XL jumpsuit and chain restraints. 

This hearing was meant to set the trial start date, which is tentatively scheduled for August 7, 2012, as well as to resolve the issue of Sandusky's bond. Sandusky and the other defendants were arrested last Thursday, and a judge set bail for each defendant at the initial bond hearing in Riverside. However, prosecutors successfully filed an appeal, which kept the Sandusky brothers in prison until now.

Aaron Sandusky's attorney, Roger Diamond, raised this issue, mentioning that Sandusky has a heart condition called a cardiomyopathy and stressing the importance of setting bail as soon as possible. Judge Percy Anderson seemed willing to proceed with the hearing, but prosecutors had failed to bring a crucial transcript from the prior hearing, which was necessary to proceed.

"It's just a stalling tactic," Diamond said after the hearing. "They just don't want him out at all."

The court failed to set a deadline for the production of the transcript. In the meantime, Sandusky will have to sit in jail, wait, and hope his heart doesn't go out before the trial.

Watch the video below and decide for yourself whether or not this man, who never hid any of his activities from the government and, in fact, invited government officials to tour his facilities, deserves multiple life terms in a federal penitentiary.