Medical Marijuana Store Owner Sentenced to Prison, Along With Employees

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that David Chavez, Jr. of Bakersfield, California was sentenced to four years in prison for using a telephone in a drug trafficking offense. Chavez owned and operated Nature’s Medicinal Co-op (Nature’s Medicinal), a marijuana dispensary located on property owned by his father, David Chavez, Sr. Chavez will also forfeit his interest in $57,000 worth of seized cash and bank funds.

The DEA raided Nature’s Medicinal and the Chavezes’ homes in May of 2007. They raided the co-op again on July 16, 2007, overall seizing more than 200 pounds of marijuana and food products containing marijuana, more than $57,000 in cash, a shotgun, and a handgun.

The sale of medical marijuana is permitted in California, but remains a crime under federal law. An October 2009 memo from former Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden advised federal prosecutors not to focus resources on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The memo went on to list circumstances under which individuals would likely not be operating in accordance with state law, including possession of unlawful amounts of marijuana or unlawful possession of firearms. Chavez claimed that he was operating under state law, but a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman advised that the federal government often targets dispensaries that are not run as nonprofits, as required under California law. Proponents of medical marijuana find the DEA’s actions ridiculous, but Gordon Taylor, DEA special assistant agent in charge, contends that dispensary owners are interested in making money, not in helping the sick.

The DEA, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and various state agencies participated in the investigation. Six co-defendants have already been sentenced, receiving prison terms ranging from 20 months three and a half years.