|Graphic: Hollywood Goodfella|
Federal authorities agreed last week to give back nearly half of the $29,350 in cash seized from a man who represents a man who operates a medical marijuana dispensary in San Marcos, California.
The decision to return $14,383 — about 49 percent of the money seized — was part of a settlement that stems from a December incident in which Ron Chang, the man behind the collective, was stopped by federal agents while hauling marijuana on Pala Road, reports Teri Figueroa of the North County Times.
Law enforcement claims that smugglers use the well-traveled back road to avoid the border checkpoint near Temecula on Interstate 15.
Chang’s attempt to set up a dispensary caused a stir in conservative San Marcos, which enacted rules preventing any such businesses from setting up shop in the city of about 84,000 residents.
His first dispensary, Medical Marijuana Supply Collective, was shut down by a Vista-based judge’s order back in October. A second shop, Club One Collective, was then set up in the same location, and in April was ordered to close by the same judge.
Both times, the city of San Marcos sued in state court to shut down the dispensaries.
The property has now been surrendered to the landlord, and there are no plans to reopen the dispensaries, according to Club One’s attorney, Nathan Shaman.
“For all intents and purposes, Club One has ceased to function,” said Shaman, who represented the shop in the cases brought by San Marcos.
He also represented the dispensary in the federal battle over the confiscated cash.
The government gave back more of the ash than it typically does in such seizure cases, admitted Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Smith, who represented the federal government in the case of the seized cash.
“I reviewed it and looked at the events and the quality of the evidence and decided that this was the best thing to do,” Smith said, admitting that the disparity between state and federal laws regarding medical marijuana can create “a real conundrum.”
Club One and some of the medical marijuana patients it served from Oceanside to Temecula found themselves the subjects of raids in April. Federal agents seized computers, corporate records and documents, according to Shaman.
The April raids came just four months after Chang’s run-in with federal agents after he got stopped and his cash was seized.
Details of that December encounter are revealed in a federal complaint seeking to permanently seize the cash found in the truck. That complaint — filed on April 15, two weeks before the raids — says that on December 21, 2010, a U.S. Border Patrol agent pulled Chang over as he drove a truck north on Pala Road.
About 9:40 a.m. on that day, a veteran Border Patrol agent in a marked car spotted a man in a red sweatshirt, driving a rented box-truck with Indiana license plates. The agent claimed he saw the truck driver shift to look into his rearview mirror at the marked Border Patrol car.
According to court documents, the agent claimed that prompted him to follow the truck as it headed north on Pala Road into Temecula.
Once that truck merged onto I-15, the agent flipped on his lights and siren and pulled it over. Chang was the driver, and authorities said he was headed to drop off items at his warehouse business in Murrieta.
Agents claim Chang consented to a search of his truck. Agents claim the search turned up $29,350 cash in a duffel bahg, 1.22 pounds of marijuana, and growing equipment.