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Education and Services Cut While California Squanders Funds Prosecuting Medical Marijuana Providers

Rich 2011-02-07 0 comments

By Catrina Coleman

Medical marijuana patients show up for court support in Long Beach to show solidarity for medical cannabis providers who cared for patient's safe access. (Photo credit: Steve Bee)

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – Outraged California citizens want to know why the state, in a time of severe budget cuts, thought it wise to spend upwards of a million dollars investigating, raiding, and prosecuting two legal medical marijuana providers.

In December 2009, just five weeks after a lengthy legal ordeal that culminated with a California court finding him in complete compliance with state medical marijuana laws, Joe Grumbine found himself staring down the barrel of a loaded gun during a terrifying SWAT style raid involving drug sniffing dogs, helicopters, and 120 armed officers storming 17 locations including homes, businesses and two medical marijuana dispensaries.

Fifteen people were arrested, but more than a year later only Grumbine and partner Joe Byron face actual charges.

Despite requests from the Long Beach City council and countless concerned citizens for an audit, no figures have been forthcoming on exactly how much the taxpayers are shelling out to prosecute these men  who have no prior convictions and whose only crime is supplying medicine to sick people as outlined under California state law.

Members of The Human Solution, a nonprofit grass roots cannabis education, advocacy, and patient support group founded by Grumbine estimate the tab will ultimately reach upwards of a million dollars.

“Of course this is rough guess based on the limited information we have, but when you start to look at all the time, energy, resources, and components that went into this prosecution, it’s mind boggling how much was spent… a police helicopter  costs taxpayers about $400.00 an hour to operate, and the raid took 10 hours.  A fully outfitted police helicopter costs the taxpayers about $5 million dollars.  Is using them to chase medical marijuana patients really the best use we have for these machines?”

Included in the estimate is the cost of the actual SWAT raid involving 120 armed officers on hazard pay,  the helicopter and its  pilot and co-pilot traveling hundreds of miles to raid 17 separate locations, the cost of specially trained drug sniffing dogs and their handlers, not to mention the expense of arresting, incarcerating, and processing the fifteen people arrested that day through the system, only two of whom face actual charges. Then taxpayers can figure the state spent a minimum of 600 man hours of pre and post raid investigation, not to mention the salary and expenses of the district attorney and his support staff.

Since charges have finally been brought against Grumbine and Byron over a year later, there’s also the cost of the two bail hearings that have already taken place in which taxpayers paid the bill for prosecuting attorneys, police witnesses, bailiffs, judges and other court personnel, as well as the cost to incarcerate the two men until they could come up with the exorbitant bails imposed on them (120K and 300K respectively, more than LA County recommends for rapist, kidnappers, and child molesters).

The public can now look forward to opening their wallets again to pay for a preliminary hearing expected to last in excess of two weeks and after that a lengthy jury trial.  When it’s all over the likely outcome is that Grumbine and Byron will be found innocent of all charges.  But the burden of fighting the legal system to prove their innocence has already nearly bankrupted them.

Long Beach resident Cheri Sicard finds the waste of resources taking place in her city shocking.  “I just read in the local paper that Long Beach is forced to lay off 429  teachers and close two schools due to budget cuts,” says Sicard.  “How many teachers salaries could have been paid with the money wasted on prosecuting these two medical marijuana providers?  No matter how you feel about the issue of marijuana, that just doesn’t make any sense.”

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who is going after Grumbine and Byron with full gusto, recently was quoted as saying “there is no room in the jails for them,” referring to current prisoners that are to possibly be transferred into the Los Angeles prison system, throwing into question why Cooley would have the state’s taxpayers house legal medical marijuana providers while claiming there is no more room in our jails currently.

Citizens outraged over government waste as well as those supporting safe access for patients to medical marijuana overflowed the courtroom at Grumbine and Byron’s November 2009 bail hearings.  Many more are expected to attend the start of their preliminary hearing on February 7th at Long Beach Superior Court in room 206 at 9am.  Members of the media and the public are encouraged to join them.

The Human Solution is a nonprofit, grass roots organization providing education and support to medical cannabis patients, providers, and the community at large.