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

On March 5, deputies raided 215 Agenda again, this time arresting Moen and two store managers, Robert Adam Moody and Marco Enrique Verduzco, both 23. The sheriff’s search warrant from the second raid noted that 215 Agenda had placed advertisements in OC Weekly for “free marijuana” for first-time customers who mentioned the ad, which boasted, “We Carry the Best Weed in the entire World!”

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A few weeks after Moen’s arrest, a California voter initiative that would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana—not just by medical marijuana patients or caregivers, but by anyone—qualified for the November ballot after the Drug Policy Alliance gathered more than 600,000 signatures in support of the proposed law. An April poll by SurveyUSA shows that 56 percent of California residents support legalization.

If that law passes, and assuming Moen hasn’t already taken some kind of plea bargain, it’s unclear what effect the law will have on the DA’s case against him. But while time may be running out for prosecutors intent on putting cannabis clubs such as 215 Agenda out of business, Moen is still in the unenviable position of being at the center of what is shaping up to be a test case for the DA’s zero-tolerance policy on prosecuting medical-marijuana “dealers.”

Orange County has never been exactly friendly to medical-marijuana activists. Shortly after California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes, Marvin Chavez and David Herrick tried to organize a legitimate cannabis collective, speaking at council meetings in Garden Grove and other cities. In return, prosecutors immediately went to work building cases against them, using undercover cops posing as patients to orchestrate marijuana sales. Two separate juries convicted the activists, neither of whom was allowed to mention Prop. 215 in his defense, and both ultimately served prison time (see “Marvin Chavez: Man of the Year,” Jan. 7, 1999, and “Redemption Song,” Dec. 23, 1999).

In the past year, dozens of marijuana dispensaries and delivery services have opened across Orange County. That pales in comparison with the estimated thousands of similar clubs that have set up shop in Los Angeles, where City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has spearheaded an effort to shut down any dispensary that sells marijuana. As Moen’s arrest makes clear, OC has no intention of being outpaced by LA in cracking down on potheads.

Moen is the first person to admit that selling marijuana—and selling it cheap—is exactly what 215 was all about. “I had no idea 215 Agenda would get so big,” he says. “But nobody had ever heard of $50 eighths, and that’s what we offered. There’s a reason we had 5,000 patients. Wouldn’t you want to get your weed as cheaply as possible?”

Moen is also quick to acknowledge that his lengthy rap sheet doesn’t exactly make him the ideal poster boy for medical marijuana. If convicted, thanks to various sentencing enhancements, including one stemming from the 2006 burglary case, Moen could spend the next four decades behind bars.

Of course, that’s assuming he’s crazy enough to actually fight this case in court rather than enter a guilty plea in return for a reduced sentence. Moen appears to be exactly that crazy. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he insists. “It would be a lie if I said I was guilty. I’m not taking any deal.”

A few weeks after Moen was arrested, Christopher Glew, a Santa Ana-based attorney who bears a striking resemblance to comedian David Cross of Arrested Development fame, is doing his best to wolf down a tuna-salad sandwich while answering a reporter’s questions about what Moen’s arrest means for Orange County’s medical-marijuana movement. Glew’s phone, buzzing incessantly, is lying on the table next to his sandwich. Unable to ignore it any longer, Glew finally takes the call; his eyebrows furrow as he listens to another of his clients, calling to say he’s about to be arrested. The client owns a dispensary in Costa Mesa, which is cracking down on cannabis clubs, raiding them at the rate of one or two per week.

“Just don’t say anything,” Glew instructs in a calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice. “No matter what, don’t answer any questions. If they’ve already raided you, that means they’ve already made up their mind that what you’re doing is illegal, so there’s no point in talking.”

As soon as Glew hangs up, his phone rings again, this time from another client whose club is also being raided. “If you’re not there, don’t go there,” he says. “Stay where you are.” Moments later, a third call comes in. “My advice would be to turn yourself in,” he suggests.

Once off the phone, Glew shakes his head. “I would never endorse a club that wasn’t willing to sit down with the DA to work something out,” he says. “But the problem is, the DA will always tell you what you’re doing wrong, but they’ll never say what you’re doing right. Everyone thinks what they are doing is legal, so why shouldn’t they talk? But in the 50 cases I’ve done, every single thing the clubs did to become legitimate was used against them.”

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