CCT / Tracy Manzer / 12,20,2011
LONG BEACH — Jury deliberations began Tuesday in the trial of two local men charged with illegal drug sales, grand theft and filing false tax returns via a trio of medical marijuana collectives.
Supporters of defendants Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron insist the charges, which include 13 felony counts, are nothing more than an attack by zealous police and prosecutors in violation of the state’s medical marijuana law.
Deputy District Attorney Jodi Castano declared the case is about two men using the sick and infirm as a shield for illegal drug deals.
The two men were arrested in December of 2009 after police raided the three locations. And the battle began long before the trial, with numerous motions heard as both sides sought to block some witnesses and evidence. Among the skirmishes that broke out before the first day of testimony was a fight over whether a medical marijuana defense could be presented.
Initially, Long Beach Superior Court Judge Charles Sheldon ruled no such a defense would be allowed, said supporter Cheri Sicard. The defense team, led by Attorney Allison Margolin, challenged Sheldon’s ruling in a higher court and was awarded a judgement that required the lower court to allow the medical marijuana defense, Sicard said.
Nonetheless, police and prosecutors insist the defendants were using the collectives as profit-driven stores with frequent flier cards and specials and discounts offered inside the businesses and through Twitter and Facebook. The defendants, Castano said, tried to hide the businesses by using fictitious business names. She also charged the accused stole electricity from neighboring businesses to hide the large amount of power needed to grow the plants. Bills were paid by money order to eliminate paper trials, the prosecutor noted. The defendants, she said, under-reported their sales tax for two years, pocketing more than $2 million.
Dozens of medical marijuana proponents have attended the trial since it began Nov. 30 and have held rallies outside the courthouse in support of Grumbine and Byron. They insist the charges by authorities are untrue and are the efforts of a city and police department that want to drive medical marijuana clinics out of the city.
The case was turned over to the jury Tuesday morning for deliberations. Deliberations are scheduled to resume Wednesday.