Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine, who operated a pair of Long Beach cannabis clubs as well as Garden Grove's Unit D collective until they were raided and arrested along with all of their employees two years ago this month, were found guilty by a jury today of selling marijuana, tax evasion, and electricity theft. The verdict is sure to have wide ramifications throughout California, as it suggests that police and prosecutors can hand-pick cases against cannabis collectives, and assuming a judge allows them to keep juries from hearing the entirety of state law allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, they can win convictions.
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The two Joes were the subject of a June 2011 OC Weekly cover story, which detailed how they fell afoul of the police when a disgruntled employee accused them of stealing electricity to facilitate a grow operation, and how undercover cops using actual doctor's recommendations to smoke cannabis made repeated marijuana purchases at the trio of collectives in an effort to build a pot-sales case against the two men.
A news story that will appear in the print edition of the Weekly tomorrow details how the presiding judge in the criminal trial, Charles D. Sheldon, originally ruled that the defense couldn't even mention medical marijuana, but was overturned by an appellate ruling a day before trial began. Among other things, Sheldon allowed prosecutors to erect a screen between jurors and the audience, overwhelmingly made up of mostly elderly former members of the collective, including some in wheelchairs; he also frequently yelled at defense attorneys Christopher Glew and Allison Margolin, thus providing ample grounds for an appeal.
Neither Glew nor Margolin, who were subjected by Sheldon to a gag order during the trial, were immediately available for comment. But given the judge's apparently intense bias against the defense, courtroom observers weren't particularly surprised at the verdict.
"The only way a jury could have acquitted them was with jury nullification," said Charles Monson, a wheelchair-bound activist who worked with Byron and Grumbine to provide support to disabled collective members and himself the subject of a former Weekly cover story. "But the judge really painted them into a corner by not letting them look at the entirety of medical marijuana law. It's a travesty."