Mark Moen, Marijuana Martyr

The arrest of 215 Agenda's owner has OC's medical-pot community wondering if it has a prayer of avoiding trouble with the cops

Whoever was driving the white Honda Civic looked like he was in a rush. Traffic was light in the northbound lane of Highway 101, so California Highway Patrol officers J.A. Slates and C. Cotroneo had no trouble spotting the speeding vehicle. In the southbound lane, Slates slammed on the brakes, swerved through the grassy median and pulled a screeching U-turn, burning rubber. Cotroneo switched on the radar, clocked the Honda pushing 80 mph, turned on the lights and hit the sirens.

At 8:58 p.m. on June 28, 2009, near the Mendocino County town of Ukiah, the Honda pulled over to the side of the freeway and rolled to a stop. As Slates approached the car, he noticed the driver “making furtive movements,” according to his police report. He walked up to the passenger-side window, which the driver then rolled down to surrender his driver’s license, at which point, Slates would later claim, he smelled a strong odor of marijuana.

Slates escorted the driver to the patrol car and searched the Honda, quickly finding “several marijuana joints in the ashtray, a burnt joint in the front passenger seat, two green containers of marijuana next to the ashtray, a white bag containing four green containers of marijuana, four smaller clear containers of hashish, three marijuana pipes with residue, miscellaneous marijuana paraphernalia and an unused pipe.”

The driver, Mark Gregory Moen, claimed he was tired because he’d been driving for 10 to 11 hours. He freely admitted he had smoked pot a few hours earlier and handed the officers a prescription allowing him to smoke medical marijuana under California’s Compassionate Use Act. Moen volunteered to take a field sobriety test, which he passed.

But when the two officers ran Moen’s license through their laptop computer, they discovered he was wanted in connection with a 3-year-old burglary in Orange County. After placing him under arrest, the officers prepared to have his car towed into town. That’s when Moen told Slates he needed something from the trunk: $72,000 in cash.

Slates confiscated the money and put in an alert to the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force. He suspected Moen was likely rushing to Humboldt County to purchase marijuana and knew there was a good chance the task force could confiscate the cash. What Slates had no way of knowing was that he’d just busted the owner of what many believe was the biggest medical-marijuana dispensary in Orange County history.

*     *     *

From the looks of it, Orange County Men’s Jail inmate No. 2561040 has had a pretty tough weekend. Deep grooves in his forehead and concentric circles of worry lines that surround his eyes suggest he hasn’t been sleeping particularly well. Moen’s skin is sallow; his tousled, matted dark hair is specked with white and gray; and his teeth are looking a bit yellow. Moen, 50, is hunched over in evident discomfort behind a thick glass window, squirming on a small metal stool. He’s struggling to hold onto a telephone, which isn’t easy because both of his hands are restrained in handcuffs that are attached to a chain around his waist.

“I’m on the chain list,” he explains apologetically, after the phone slips off his right shoulder midsentence. The chains are a security precaution courtesy of his past criminal record, which included several stints in prison for burglary that led to an unfortunate habit of fighting in jail. “That happened a long time ago,” Moen says, wincing with embarrassment. “It wasn’t easy being the only white guy in jail, you know, but that’s no excuse. That’s not who I am now, though. I’m a different person, but they won’t even let me brush my teeth. I haven’t had a comb or a toothbrush in four days!”

Moen has been behind bars since March 5, 2010, the day several sheriff’s deputies raided 215 Agenda, Moen’s now-defunct marijuana dispensary in Lake Forest, for the second time in several months. Prosecutors charged him with 38 felony counts of money laundering, one felony count of possession of money amounting to more than $100,000 obtained from illegal sales of marijuana, three felony counts of selling marijuana, and one count of possessing marijuana with the intent to sell.

In retrospect, the Ukiah bust last June was a harbinger of a series of unfortunate incidents for 215 Agenda. The next one happened about 11:45 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2009, as Moen was driving through Huntington Beach. Moen was fiddling with the global-positioning device on his dashboard when a cop pulled him over for swerving on the road. Just as in Ukiah, the cop smelled pot and searched the car. Although he allowed Moen to drive away after examining paperwork showing that Moen owned a pot dispensary, he searched the vehicle first and confiscated another $145,000 in cash, which Moen claimed was the proceeds of roughly eight days of business.

The capture of that money led directly to an investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department aimed at taking down 215 Agenda. At its peak, by Moen’s own estimation, the dispensary served some 200 customers per day. For the next month, sheriff’s investigators monitored the dispensary and sent at least one undercover deputy carrying a doctor’s note into the club to buy pot. On Nov. 13, 2009, deputies raided 215 Agenda and another Lake Forest dispensary, the Health Collective; confiscated financial records and patient information; and arrested both Moen, who bailed out of jail the next morning, and the Health Collective owner Steven Wick.

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