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People v. Hochanadel

August 18, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
STACY ROBERT HOCHANADEL ET AL. DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Riverside County, David P. Downing, Judge. Reversed. (Super. Ct. No. INFO56902).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nares, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

In this case we are presented with two questions regarding the legality of storefront dispensaries that provide medical marijuana pursuant to the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), approved by voters in 1996 under Proposition 215, and its implementing legislation, the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA).

First, did the MMPA unconstitutionally amend the CUA when it authorized "cooperatives" and "collectives" to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana?

Second, did the court err in quashing a search warrant for a storefront medical marijuana dispensary called CannaHelp located in the City of Palm Desert, California, and dismissing the criminal charges against the defendants Stacy Robert Hochanadel, James Thomas Campbell and John Reynold Bednar (collectively, defendants), who operated CannaHelp, based on its findings that (1) CannaHelp was a legal "primary caregiver" under the CUA and MMPA; and (2) the detective that authored the search warrant affidavit was not qualified to opine as to the legality of CannaHelp?

We conclude the MMPA's authorization of cooperatives and collectives did not amend the CUA, but rather was a distinct statutory scheme intended to facilitate the transfer of medical marijuana to qualified medical marijuana patients under the CUA that the CUA did not specifically authorize or prohibit. We also conclude that storefront dispensaries that qualify as "cooperatives" or "collectives" under the CUA and MMPA, and otherwise comply with those laws, may operate legally, and defendants may have a defense at trial to the charges in this case based upon the CUA and MMPA. We further conclude, however, that the court erred in finding that CannaHelp qualified as a primary caregiver under the CUA and MMPA and in finding that the detective who authored the search warrant affidavit was not qualified to opine as to the legality of CannaHelp's activities. We conclude the facts stated in the search warrant affidavit provided probable cause the defendants were engaged in criminal activity, and, even if the search warrant lacked probable cause, the author of the search warrant affidavit acted in reasonable reliance on its validity. Accordingly, the court erred in quashing the search warrant and dismissing the charges against defendants. Finally, we conclude that, contrary to the People's contention, defendants Campbell and Bednar had standing to challenge the validity of the search warrant.

INTRODUCTION

Based upon evidence obtained from a search pursuant to a court-authorized warrant, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office charged defendants with possession of marijuana for sale (Health & Saf. Code,*fn1 § 11359: count 1); transportation of marijuana (§ 11360, subd. (a): count 2); and maintaining a business for the purpose of selling marijuana (§ 11366: count 3).

Defendants brought a motion to quash the search warrant. The court granted the motion finding (1) the detective who authored the affidavit in support of the search warrant was not qualified as an expert on the CUA and MMPA; (2) the dispensary the defendants operated qualified as a "primary caregiver" under the CUA and thus they did not violate the law; and (3) the warrant and resulting evidence were therefore illegal. The court thereafter dismissed the case based upon a lack of evidence.

The People appeal, asserting the court erred in quashing the search warrant because (1) the MMPA, which implemented the CUA, unconstitutionally amended the CUA by authorizing marijuana cooperatives as primary caregivers; (2) the defendants' storefront dispensary did not qualify as a primary caregiver under the MMPA; (3) the "collective knowledge" doctrine established probable cause for the warrant; (4) the detective who authored the search warrant provided competent expert evidence to support a finding of probable cause; (5) the good faith exception to the exclusionary rules applies even if the search warrant was invalid; and (6) defendants Bednar and Campbell did not have standing to challenge the search warrant as they were not owners of CannaHelp.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn2

A. The Investigation

In October 2005 Hochanadel opened a marijuana dispensary named "Hempies" in the City of Palm Desert. Hochanadel later changed the name to "CannaHelp." Hachanadel filed a certificate of use statement with the State of California, identifying it as a dispensary for medical marijuana. CannaHelp obtained a business license from the City of Palm Desert to operate a medical marijuana dispensary and operated it in a transparent fashion. Access to the business was controlled by employees, who allowed customers to enter a room where their medical marijuana prescription was verified. Once it was verified the customer had a valid prescription, the customer was allowed access to a second room where various types of marijuana were on display. Employees received weekly training on the different strains of marijuana and offered advice to patients on what strains were effective for different ailments. Prior to making a purchase, customers completed paperwork designating CannaHelp as their primary caregiver. All the patients of CannaHelp had valid doctor's statements, and CannaHelp contacted authorities when someone tried to illegally purchase marijuana. CannaHelp operated like any other business, with financial records, employee records, and policies and procedures. Campbell and Bednar were the managers and co-owners of CannaHelp. All three defendants had medical referrals for marijuana and were qualified medical marijuana patients under the CUA.

Riverside County Sheriff's Detective Robert Garcia investigated CannaHelp. Under his direction, police conducted surveillance of CannaHelp. They observed a significant amount of buying activity. The customers were mostly young, without any observable health conditions. Detective Garcia saw Gary and Krista Silva arrive in a van. It was determined Gary Silva was a manufacturer and supplier of marijuana to CannaHelp.

On March 14, 2006, federal agents executed a search warrant at Gary Silva's home. While executing the search warrant, officers observed a fully operational growing operation in a sectioned-off portion of the garage, with 69 marijuana plants and growing equipment. Agents found "numerous" loaded firearms in Silva's residence. They also discovered several canisters of dried marijuana for sale, and marijuana on drying racks in the master bedroom.

Detective Garcia sent an undercover officer into CannaHelp with a manufactured physician's statement produced by the sheriff's department. That officer was denied entry when CannaHelp employees could not verify the physician's statement was legitimate.

A second officer then went to a physician in Los Angeles and complained of chronic back pain. He obtained a statement from that doctor allowing him to purchase medical marijuana. He presented it to CannaHelp and was allowed to purchase marijuana. Prior to purchasing the marijuana, he was given advice as to which strain would be most helpful for his back pain and signed a document designating CannaHelp as his primary caregiver.

While inside CannaHelp, the undercover agent observed an ATM machine and three display boards listing prices for different quantities of marijuana. The agent also observed plastic containers of marijuana inside a glass counter. An employee recommended a specific type of marijuana for his back pain, and he purchased one ounce of marijuana for $290. The same agent later conducted another undercover buy, this time purchasing one-half an ounce for $290.

B. Search Warrant Affidavit

Detective Garcia executed an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Hochanadel's residences and CannaHelp. Detective Garcia related his experience in narcotics investigations, noting that he was assigned to the Special Investigations Bureau charged with narcotics investigations. He stated that during his employment with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department he "participated in several narcotics training and education courses dealing with the sales, packaging, recognition, preparation, paraphernalia, and use of narcotics, dangerous drugs and controlled substances. This training also included instruction of the types of financial records maintained by persons(s) who traffic in controlled substances." He also "received approximately 20 hours of instruction on narcotics, dangerous drugs, and controlled substances" while attending the sheriff's academy. He attended an undercover operations course and a criminal interdiction course. He also detailed his experience in narcotics arrests and search warrants, as well as investigations of marijuana grow operations.

The affidavit thendetailed the investigation of CannaHelp, discussed, ante. Based upon that investigation,Detective Garcia concluded that CannaHelp was operating illegally because it was "selling marijuana, which is a violation of [sections] 11359 and 11360. In California, there is no authority for the existence of storefront marijuana businesses. The [MMPA] allows patients and primary caregivers to grow and cultivate marijuana, no one else. A primary caregiver is defined as an 'individual' who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of a patient. A storefront marijuana business cannot, under the law, be a primary caregiver." Detective Garcia further opined CannaHelp was operating illegally because it was a for-profit enterprise: "Additionally, given this is a 'cash only' business, the presence of an ATM machine, high prices charged for small amounts of marijuana, it is also my opinion that this criminal enterprise is 'for profit' which is outside of any of the guidelines in the medical marijuana exceptions." Specifically, Detective Garcia opined the price for marijuana at CannaHelp was approximately twice the price of "mid-grade" marijuana available on the streets.

Based upon Detective Garcia's affidavit, the court granted the search warrant.

C. Detective Garcia's Preliminary Hearing Testimony

At the preliminary hearing, Detective Garcia admitted he had no formal training in medical marijuana laws. He was "[j]ust given a pamphlet or some paperwork, just given the laws just to read over."

He further admitted that based upon his review of CannaHelp's financial records, it was losing money, with annual revenues of $1.7 million, and expenses of $2.6 million, not including rent, utilities or other expenses. He admitted the business was "upside down."

D. Motion To Quash

The defendants brought motions to quash the search warrant. Defendants argued (1) CannaHelp qualified as a primary caregiver under the CUA and MMPA, and therefore the motion should be quashed based upon a lack of probable cause; and (2) the search ...


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