Why Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine, the operators of two shuttered cannabis clubs in Long Beach as well as Garden Grove's Unit D collective, were ever charged for selling marijuana in the first place is a mystery. After all, Long Beach not only does not have any laws banning marijuana clubs in the city, but it actually has an ordinance allowing them to operate, which is why there are now numerous clubs that, for a tidy $15,000 permit fee, are currently doing exactly the same thing that Byron and Grumbine now face prison time for doing: selling weed to patients qualified to smoke the stuff under state law.
But yesterday, this weird case got even more bizarre when Long Beach Superior Court Judge Charles D. Sheldon ruled that Byron and Grumbine could not wage a so-called "affirmative defense," meaning that jurors will have no choice but to view them as regular drug dealers rather than medical marijuana purveyors who were arguably carrying out the law rather than breaking it.
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Given that both men have never denied operating clubs that provided marijuana to members--see OC Weekly's June 2011 cover story, "Buds," about their case--it's hard to see this unhappy charade will end well, although there's a strong possibility Sheldon's ruling could be overturned on appeal.
Grumbine's attorney, Christopher Glew, for one, expressed amazement at Sheldon's ruling. "The city of Long Beach has an ordinance that allows the sales and distribution of marijuana," Glew argued. "So they are telling people to do something that they are arresting people for doing and not allowing them to present evidence they have that government officials are telling them to do this. How can this be? Why are there not 10,000 other people being charged with this, including city councilmen and police officers? Essentially what Long Beach is getting away with is picking and choosing who the law applies to and it's completely random. It just defies logic."
Panicked emails circulating online cannabis forums this morning assert that if Sheldon's ruling stands, nobody in California will be able to mention the words "medical marijuana" when their cannabis clubs happen to be raided and they are brought up on pot sales charges. For his part, though, Glew isn't too worried. "In making his ruling, the judge relied on old cases cited by the prosecution and ignored newer ones I mentioned in my brief," he said. "So we will have to file an appeal and we will do that. Ultimately, all the judge is doing is making us do a trial that will ultimately be overturned on appeal."
If convicted, Byron and Grumbine could each serve several years in state prison.