A witness was arrested Tuesday in California after he testified in the preliminary hearing of another man facing felony charges of cultivating marijuana and possessing it for sale.
Deputies grabbed Jeffrey Lee Sanford in Butte County Superior Court after his testimony at Timothy Ole Skytte’s preliminary hearing, reports Ryan Olson of Chico ER. Skytte was arrested on August 18 after deputies found 54 marijuana plants growing on his property in Concow. Officers also found 369 more plants on a property Skytte rented to another man identified as Lawrence Evans.
“It is obvious that Butte County is using this oppressive tactic to suppress people from testifying in defense of medical providers and it is this type of behavior that challenges the fabric of our democracy,” said Mickey Martin of the website Cannabis Warrior.
Sanford, president of the 30th Street Patient Collective in San Diego, testified Skytte was a member of his 4,200-person collective and was one of a dozen vendors who helped furnish the group with marijuana.
Skytte also leased part of the Concow property to Sanford to grow medical marijuana for collective members.
Before Sanford testified, Judge Steven Howell had questioned him about his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and repeatedly offered to provide a public defender.
But Sanford said he was confident he could testify, although he may put himself at risk.
“I feel I have an obligation to my friend, Tim,” Sanford said.
After Sanford was arrested in court by deputies, Skytte’s attorney, Jodea Foster, said he would challenge the Butte County District Attorney’s Office action as prosecutorial misconduct.
“The people in this county should be outraged that that’s the way our District Attorney’s Office handles issues,” Foster said.
According to Foster, the arrest affects his client’s defense because Sanford could now plead the Fifth and no longer testify in Skytte’s case.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Greeson claimed Sanford’s testimony “established a connection” to Butte County and led to the probable cause to arrest him in court.
But attorney Foster disputed Greeson’s claims, saying the prosecution had interviewed Sanford before Tuesday. He said Sanford did not provide any new information on the witness stand.
Sanford testified he founded the 30th Street Patient Collective nearly three years ago, but is now preparing to shut it down after receiving a threatening letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. He said he met Skytte through a mutual friend more than two years ago. Skytte became a member of the collective and began supplying marijuana.
According to sheriff’s detective Douglas Patterson, Skytte said 30 plants on the Concow property were “under Sanford’s control,” using six different San Diego medical marijuana recommendations.
Patterson said all of the recommendations were valid, but four San Diego collective members who were contacted by police said they were unaware and upset that their recommendations were being used to authorize a grow. The detective also claimed members said they belonged to more than one collective.
Sanford said recommendations were selected at random for the grow. He said he assumed collective members gave their consent when they signed a membership agreement. While the agreement doesn’t expressly say a plant would be grown for a particular patient, he said the agreement notes growing is a “real-life expense.”
In addition to providing the recommendations, Sanford wrote letters for Evans and Skytte to provide to police if they got stopped while transporting marijuana to San Diego. Sanford said he could refuse delivery if the cannabis didn’t appear to be of medicinal quality. If the marijuana was acceptable, he said he would pay rates of $1,110 to $3,200 per pound.
Deputy D.A. Greeson claimed the collective was a dispensary providing a cover for commercial sales. He claimed the case is an example of the abuse of the collective laws.
“This is a mockery of Proposition 215,” Greeson said, as if he ever cared about the medical marijuana law to begin with.
“[Butte County] DA Mike Ramsey continues to put forth this nonsense and ruin the lives of those who attempt to provide safe access to patients,” Martin of Cannabis Warrior said. “Here is a direct quote from the text of 215’s purpose: ‘To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.’
“Safe and affordable distribution is pretty clear to me, Mr. Ramsey,” Martin said. “It is very sad that you do not see that the voters of California did indeed vote for a system for patients to get their medicine safely.”
Attorney Foster said the legality of Sanford’s grow operation is disputed by many jurisdictions. He argued there may not be enough evidence for an additional money laundering charge against Skytte because there is some question where the money came from.
The judge found there was sufficient evidence to hold Skytte for trial on all counts: everything we’ve already mentioned, plus illegal possession of a stun-gun.