A Conversation with Joe Grumbine, An Innocent Man Caught in a Legal Nightmare

By Cheri Sicard

I recently had a conversation with Joe Grumbine, a man caught in the middle of legal nightmare that has been dragging on for over 2 years.  An organic gardener and lifelong student of the healing properties of natural herbs, it was while working with cancer and AIDS patients that Joe first began to realize the extraordinary healing properties of cannabis.

The catalyst that finally spurred Grumbine and partner Joe Byron to open a medical marijuana collective back in 2008 was the death of a close friend to brain cancer.  “I saw how a few drops of cannabis tincture under his tongue provided  relief where morphine failed,” says Grumbine, “and I knew others who could also benefit from this incredible healing plant.”

A medical marijuana advocate and activist, Joe is the founder and director of The Human Solution, a non-profit group that provides education and support to cannabis patients, caregivers, and the community at large.

The group offers classes and workshops, publicly addresses local governments, law enforcement agencies, and civic groups, and helps organize court support and raise funds for those trapped in the legal quagmire of the justice system surrounding medical marijuana.

When he set out to help others, Joe Grumbine never dreamed that he would be the one most in need of the support.  But in December of 2009, Grumbine found himself at the center of a terrifying SWAT style raid involving 120 armed officers, dogs, and helicopters.  Seventeen people were arrested that day.

A year later, only Grumbine and Byron face actual charges.  Their preliminary hearing is scheduled to start on February 7 in Long Beach Superior Court.

Cheri Sicard: Five weeks before the 2009 raid took place, you were exonerated of all charges relating to a similar case. Can you tell us what that case was about, what the charges were, and why they decided to come after you again?

Joe Grumbine: The first case started in December 08. I had recently started a patients collective in Garden Grove. We had built everything from scratch on a shoestring budget and hadn’t been able to afford a safe yet, so I was taking the medicine home at night for safe keeping. A mile away from my home  a Riverside County sheriff pulled behind me and lit me up.  Almost immediately, the sheriff smelled the cannabis and I explained my position. I showed my doctor’s recommendation and proof of the collective, but unfortunately there is no document that authorizes anyone to transport cannabis without question, so he took me in. I was booked into Southwest Riverside County Jail where I spent the worst day of my life up to that point.

I had never had any experience with the law. Hell, I hadn’t even had a speeding ticket in over 15 years. And I certainly had never been in the general prison population before. I posted a bond for 30K bail and was released. I  began to shop for lawyers and was distressed at what kind of fees were  involved. After poking around some of the local advocacy groups, I met Chris Glew, who after asking some folks about my work, agreed to represent me for much less than others and allowed me to make payments. I learned that I was being charged with 3 cannabis related felonies and was facing 10 years in prison!  As it turns out in our justice system anyone charged with a crime is assumed innocent and the burden of proof is upon the court. In a cannabis case however, you are presumed guilty since you are not trying to prove that you were possessing cannabis. Rather you are burdened with proving that you were lawfully possessing cannabis under existing law.

I learned that in order to build my case I needed people willing to not only testify on my behalf, but I needed these folks to actually show up in support and vocalize their opinions in court, in the DA’s office, and  to elected officials.   I spent the next 11 months speaking at advocacy groups telling my story to everyone that would listen. My message was and is that it doesn’t matter who you are, my experience could easily be yours. Members of most of the groups pledged their support and we began to meet to discuss issues, write letters and plan our strategy. After 17 trips to court and four prosecutors the case was dismissed on a 995 Motion. I submitted proof of patients, patient outreach programs and a huge witness list before that happened. The judge said “The court finds that Mr. Grumbine was acting in accordance with California Law.”

I celebrated my new freedom with vigor, and for almost five weeks life was back to normal. I later found out that Long Beach detective Valenzuela, who would later lead the case against me, contacted the Riverside DA and after hearing my case was dismissed told him. “Don’t worry we’ve got him good.”

Five weeks later I was raided and 120 Long Beach police stormed 17 locations including our collective grow, my partner’s restaurant and real estate business, along with the homes of employees and volunteers.   Property was seized and destroyed. I personally stared down the barrel of a service weapon. Did you know that you can see the bullet in the chamber? I hope for your sake that you never have to find out the hard way.   My wife and daughter were handcuffed for hours while dogs and agents tore my property apart. My wife was told by Detective Salb from the LA impact division. “You should be put down like animals.”   The officers left a present of steaming turds in each of my 3 toilets. We were held in the Long Beach jail (a filthy place) and released on a $25k bond.

I discovered that LA District Attorney and anti-marijuana zealot Steve Cooley was behind the raid.  At the time he was being very vocal about his stance that all sales of cannabis were illegal and that all dispensaries would be shut down.

It was kind of funny, they didn’t take our food bank, clothes, wheelchairs, or walkers. But they did leave a handwritten “Merry Xmas” sign on the wall when we returned to pick up the pieces.

Cheri Sicard: Aside from the financial strain, what has been the hardest part of this ordeal for you?

Joe Grumbine: The hardest part of this ordeal, aside from the horrible experience of incarceration, is the stress of the possibility of a conviction. Remember I have never hurt anyone in my life, especially not in a criminal manner. I have provided a plant to patients in need. The stigma of being in the “system” has scared many of my friends and family. People that I have been close to for over 20 years are now afraid to be near me or my family. The stress manifests in so many ways from an itch on my face that won’t stop to bad dreams ,when I never had such an experience before. I am blessed with many friends but have lost so many close relationships because of this ordeal. Fear is my biggest enemy outside of “ the cops.”

Cheri Sicard:  I don’t want to gloss over the financial strain.  Explain to people what it’s like from a financial standpoint to go through an arrest and prosecution like this, even if the charges are eventually dropped. How many of your assets are gone forever?

Joe Grumbine: The first way they hit you is they seize your property. Cash especially is a favorite. The cops turn it over to the feds so the only way to get it back is to sue them.  Remember cannabis is still a Schedule I substance with “no medical value” under federal law and there are minimum sentence guidelines that you can’t defend against.   Asset forfeiture , taking our money and property, is the best weapon the “war on drugs” has.  They can seize you car and house if drugs are involved, but not if you’ve raped or killed someone.  Go figure.

The second way they get you is with bail. They hit me with $260K bail and my partner Joe Byron with $340K before it was reduced two days later to $120K and  $300K respectively.   Then legal fees set in.  It is easy to spend upwards of $50K on legal representation using just one attorney.  The court required us to use two, although we were only informed of this the night before our first bail hearing.  Prior to this Chris Glew had been representing both of us, but we suddenly had to scramble to find a second attorney..   Expert witnesses and subpoenas can easily add thousands to the tab. Then a stink lands on you and whatever business you had before it all began suffers. No part of my financial life has ever recovered since the first arrest. All assets are gone.  Sometimes you can get them back. Never any guarantees.

Cheri Sicard:  I’m sure you’ve been surprised by many things during this process from the treatment at the hands of law enforcement during the raid, to losing an attorney the night before a trial, to excessive bails, to the conditions in prison. You’ve been an activist for some time so you had to be aware that these things go on regularly, but what most surprised you?

Joe Grumbine: I have been an advocate for many years now and an activist for the past few. It’s a funny thing, you hear about the horrors that people go through and are shocked, but when it happens to you, you just deal with it. Sometime later it hits you and you relive the experience with a different perspective. Shock turns into a moment of helplessness, then frustration, and finally the anger begins to take root. I feel like an unstoppable force but am very aware that in an instant I could be in shackles with no rights. I am a true American and consider myself to be a patriot. My family has lived in America since before we were a country and has served in every military conflict since the revolutionary war. I have always paid particular attention to the needs of veterans and have always sought to go out of my way to do what I can to help make their lives better. As an American, I had expectations of how our justice system works from the ethics of law enforcement to decorum in the courthouse. When my attorney told me how it was going to be – a roller coaster with crazy judges and court officials running the show – I “understood” but when you sit there and see it affect you and your loved ones with such overwhelming force …yeah there is an element of surprise and disbelief. Finally, the experience of incarceration. is something so surreal that you are always surprised when a human being can be so cruel, heartless and sadistic, but you remain numb so that you can get through the next minute.

Cheri Sicard:  During your bail hearing the courtroom was filled with supporters. How important is court support to someone going through the ordeal of persecution by the legal system for providing medicine to patients?

Joe Grumbine: I speak at every opportunity on the value of court support. I think that court support is one of the most powerful things that an individual can do with the least amount of effort. You don’t have to be a public speaker, writer, musician or any other particular talent. Just show up and stand together in unity and you have changed the world a little. I have been in courtrooms with no support and it’s got to be one of the loneliest situations imaginable. The judge sits above everyone and controls your life, the minions stand at the ready to do his/her will. If you’re fortunate you have an attorney by your side but who’s watching them?

Some folks say that it makes no difference at all, that judges are above reproach and can’t be touched by such a statement but I say this: there are few cases where people act the same when they are being watched and scrutinized as they do when they are all alone with nobody watching.

I know that for the two seconds that I was able to scan the courtroom, I saw it filled with caring faces. I knew that this was a sacrifice for everyone to take time out of their lives to travel, pay for parking and gas, and to be treated poorly by the court. I knew that whatever happened to me in there was going to be witnessed by everyone. I will remember that moment all my life. I am almost brought to tears every time I think about it. Those people gave me strength to endure the rest of my stay in custody. I know that I could have survived knowing that those people cared enough to be there and ultimately get me released.

Yes it does make a difference and I encourage people not only to show support for all of our brothers and sisters in the justice system, especially regarding medical cannabis cases, but to go and sit in random courtrooms and audit the system. People have no idea how our justice system works. In the federal building in Riverside, there is a fountain that is inscribed “equal protection under law.”  Nothing could be further from the truth and most of the voting population has no idea!

Cheri Sicard:I know you start a preliminary hearing that’s expected to last in excess of two weeks on February 7.  What do you expect the outcome of that to be?

Joe Grumbine: In the preliminary hearing both sides basically show their case including witnesses and evidence and the judge decides weather or not to move the case to a jury trial. I have seen some cases dismissed at the preliminary hearing and sometimes the DA’s office modifies a plea to make it more enticing.  But in my case, they spent too much money investigating and executing the raid to drop the case. It’s really messed up because if I was to take a plea, they would consider it a win and someone in the DA’s office would get “points.”  Same goes if I am convicted. On the other hand, if I win the case, the DA’s office doesn’t care, whatever prosecutor loses the case is thrown under the bus and the machine moves on.

When I was incarcerated, I was asked by five different prison guards, “Who did you piss off?” It is obvious that someone has taken this case very personally. I’m sure that when Steve Cooley sanctioned this raid, his Intel told him that we were a “Big Fish” and when he came up empty they were steaming mad. I think the lead detective on the case has something to do with this misappropriation of resources and maybe he’s in danger of losing some clout? This is all speculation but something’s behind it.  The outcome will almost certainly be that this case will move forward to a jury trial where 12 people will have to find me guilty. I’m confident that will not happen but I have to work very hard to build a bulletproof defense.

Cheri Sicard:  How are you and your family holding personally under so much stress and hardship?

Joe Grumbine: This has been the most hardship that my family has had to endure. I am so blessed to have such a loving family that has stood by my side and been the rock that I anchor to.  I have a deep faith in God and I’m sure that family is the physical representation of that energy. Aside from my wife and kids, my advocacy group The Human Solution (www.the-human-solution.org) has been my extended family. They have been so supportive, almost constantly present in some capacity and such loving people. I am truly a rich man with so many loving people in my life. Although it has been tense and we have our moments, we’re standing strong and will remain so till the end.

Cheri Sicard:  What can the public do right now to help your cause?

Joe Grumbine: That’s the million dollar question. Actually there are so many ways to help. I’ll start with the easiest. The first thing anyone can do is to be willing to show up in court on Feb 7 and wear a solidarity ribbon, we’ll even supply the ribbons.

The next thing to help my cause is to donate time, talent, or resources. Obviously this situation has financially crippled us. We own a small plant nursery and botanical garden but preparing for trial, fund raising, and spreading the word takes up a substantial part of every day. We need to raise about $3500 before the preliminary hearing and upwards of $30,000 to cover attorneys fees through the trial. This is, mind you, on top of what has already been paid and the fact that our lead attorney, Chris Glew, has been very gracious with his time and representation.

We are doing a number of small fundraisers as well as an ongoing Tamale drive where I will deliver hand made Tamales, beans, rice and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to your door. One collective and a couple of very generous people have donated so far and I hope that this will continue.

Time and Talent are also very helpful. The Human Solution is a non profit educational and patient support group that has several action teams including writing, research , fund  raising, public relations and so on.

We are currently completing a “what can I do “ packet that will include contact information for local elected officials as well as law enforcement agencies. The purpose of this is to make it easy for people to contact someone that is capable of having an impact on the case. I think that if people give a try at “letting your local elected officials know what you think about this abuse of power and mismanagement of tax dollars, they will receive a therapeutic value of stress relief. It feels good to blow off some steam. I’m hoping that enough people wake up and understand how this affects them enough to incite some personal outrage.

Finally I’m looking for legal help any attorneys, paralegals or qualified researchers willing to help with this case.  If you can help with ANY of these things,  please contact me at directly at 951-436-6312 or contact us through the website: www.the-human-solution.org.

Thanks in advance for being part of the solution!

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