When the Doobie Dozen was arrested, District Attorney Dan Dow was about three years into his stint as a deputy district attorney in San Luis Obispo County; Sheriff Ian Parkinson was a captain with the SLO Police Department; and it was still illegal to possess marijuana for recreational use in Washington and Colorado.
When the Doobie Dozen was arrested, Cory Pierce was a detective with the SLO Police Department; now he’s serving an 18-month sentence in federal prison for extortion after allegedly stealing drugs from drug dealers.
A little more than four years ago, the now-defunct local interagency Narcotics Task Force (NTF) led an operation that resulted in 12 arrests of medical marijuana delivery service providers operating in SLO County.
On Nov. 25 of this year, the last of the cases were finally dismissed.
At the hearing, Steve Gordon, one of the defendants, pressed against a podium in the center of the courtroom, licking his lips and anxiously watching the exchange between judge and attorneys. Word of the dismissal came from Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut, who admitted that he had no insight about the case; he was just there to deliver a message: “The people are moving to dismiss the case in the interest of justice, your honor.”
At least one of the defendants and an attorney in the case told New Times that they didn’t know what to expect from county prosecutors as late as Nov. 21. Though the six cases were originally dismissed in 2012, the District Attorney’s Office later brought them to a state appellate court. At issue, primarily, were jury instructions handed down by Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera, which likely would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for prosecutors to obtain guilty verdicts.
The state appellate court handed down more favorable jury instructions, kicking the cases back to the local level. All six defendants—Chris and Amy Austin, David and Valerie Hosking, Thomas Sandercock, and Gordon—were back in court on Oct. 7, 2014, with new attorneys who seemed to be playing catch up and had asked for additional time to make discovery requests from the District Attorney’s Office.
Defense attorney Louis Koory, who is representing Gordon and said he was making a special appearance on behalf of the other defendants, wrote a letter on Nov. 18. In it, he noted the discovery requests provided by the District Attorney’s Office, but he further asked for evidence related to Gordon’s case—which included photographs, a briefcase with “financial documents,” medical marijuana recommendations, about 100 “patient recommendations,” and two physician recommendations.
Koory said in court that he was working with prosecutors to return seized property, an issue that will be revisited in January.
In fact, the decision to dismiss the cases wasn’t official until the morning the matter was heard on Nov. 25. District Attorney Dan Dow told New Times that he’d been reviewing the cases since winning the office in June. He said the decision on how to proceed became his once he took office on Nov. 7, replacing former District Attorney Gerry Shea.
According to Dow, the decision to prosecute the original 12 cases was the right move in 2010, but as laws changed in the time since, he didn’t believe the county could secure convictions, even with favorable jury instructions form the appellate decision.
“At the time in 2010 … the case law was very different around the state, as far as what it was requiring prosecutors to prove,” Dow said. “We believed that we could prove that [the defendants] were unlawfully selling marijuana for profit.
“When now taken as a whole, the law has developed since these cases were filed, and now it’s a lot more clear on how you can prove an illegal sales of marijuana case,” Dow added. “It’s our obligation to support the law of California. The law allows medical marijuana, so we’re never going to go forward on a case that complies with the law.”
According to Koory, however, there was never any violation of the law. Koory pointed at the NTF as a federally funded organization that pushed an investigation and subsequent arrests despite the state laws supporting medical marijuana.
“It’s no coincidence that the NTF chose to disregard California law; they were a federally funded task force,” Koory said.
After the Nov. 25 hearing, Koory told New Times, “This is likely the last gasp of the war on medical cannabis.”
In the 2010 investigation report centered on Gordon’s Hopeful Remedies delivery service, SLO Police Detective Amy Chastain wrote that after obtaining a medical marijuana recommendation from a local doctor, she contacted Hopeful Remedies to set up a delivery. She spoke with a man later identified as Gordon, who told her that he would stop by her apartment in SLO after making a stop at the local hospice. When he arrived at the apartment, “He saw Det. [Cory] Pierce standing in the hallway and appeared startled.”
Gordon went on to ask for the medical recommendation and “started to go over all of the rules associated with the medical marijuana recommendation.”
“[Gordon] said that I can still get a DUI if I am caught driving under the influence of marijuana and I am not supposed to smoke within 1,000 feet of a school or park,” Chastain wrote. “He said that if I get pulled over with the ‘medicine’ and I tell them it is from him the officers can call him to verify that I am part of the collective.”
NTF agents later arrested Gordon and 11 others at their homes.
Trace Milan, who was appointed to represent Valerie Hosking after that case came back from appeal, said the dismissal indicated a change in how local law enforcement approaches medical marijuana.
“I think we’re seeing a shift in reasonableness with Dan Dow coming in,” he told New Times.
Asked about the money and resources devoted to 12 cases that have all been dismissed, Dow said that they were filed in good faith in 2010—and rightfully, given the necessary attention from prosecutors.
“I don’t think that anything was done that violated the trust of the taxpayers,” Dow said.
In fact, the so-called Doobie Dozen may well be the last major medical marijuana prosecutions in SLO County. Dow said his office will continue to prosecute such marijuana cases as illegal grows, but he doesn’t expect local law enforcement to bring many medical marijuana cases anymore. Sheriff Parkinson echoed that sentiment.
“I think as we changed, as the years went by here in my first term, it became very obvious that this is the way the laws were being interpreted,” Parkinson said. “So we have done very little in the area of [medical] marijuana enforcement.”
He added that such cases are “next to impossible” to prosecute.
Though none of those arrested in 2010 are facing criminal charges, five of them will continue to make court appearances. Gordon and the Hoskings, as well as Charles and Rachel Tamagni, filed a civil lawsuit against the California Department of Justice, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, and former NTF head Rodney John, as well as other officers involved in the cases. They allege a number of constitutional rights violations, including loss of property, unreasonable search and seizure, and abuse of process.
The state has moved to dismiss the case, which is scheduled to be heard in court on Dec. 18.
Near the close of the Nov. 25 hearing, as Koory mentioned that he and other attorneys were working with local law enforcement to have the defendants’ property returned, Judge Donald Umhofer paused.
“They want their marijuana back?” he asked.
“There is a lot of property that needs to be returned, your honor,” Koory said.
Contact Senior Staff Writer Colin Rigley at firstname.lastname@example.org.