|Photo: Benjamin Rasmussen/The New York Times|
|In happier times: Pierre Werner, owner of Dr. Reefer, takes a toke in his dispensary in Boulder, Colorado, June 13, 2010.|
Dr. Reefer’s days as a marijuana activist are over.
“Someone else has got to carry on the fight now that me and my whole family are convicted felons,” Dr. Reefer — also known as entrepreneur Pierre Werner — said on Thursday, reports Carri Geer Thevenot at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Werner and other members of his family on Thursday resolved their federal marijuana case by pleading guilty to felonies.
Dr. Reefer was one of 14 people, including his mother and brother, arrested on January 6 in connection with marijuana sales at Las Vegas dispensaries.
|Photo: Craig L. Moran/Las Vegas Review-Journal|
|Pierre Werner’s mother, Reynalda Barnett, and younger brother, Clyde Barnett, leave court on Thursday after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. They operated Dr. Reefer, a Las Vegas medical marijuana dispensary raided last September.|
He joined his mother, Reynald Barnett, 60, and younger brother, Clyde Barnett, 22, in pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.
U.S. District Judge Philip Pro is scheduled to sentence the trio on October 18.
The arrests followed the September raids of a number of Las Vegas dispensaries, including Dr. Reefer, a business operated by Reynalda and Clyde Barnett at 8975 S. Pecos Road. Clark County suspended Dr. Reefer’s business license in November.
Storefront medical marijuana dispensaries are not recognized under Nevada’s Medical Marijuana Act, and the U.S. attorney’s office has said it is illegal to sell marijuana in Nevada. Medical marijuana patients and caregivers in the state are required to grow their own, even though that’s a cruel joke for those patients who are too ill to do so.
Under their plea agreements, Reynalda Barnett and Clyde Barnett have a chance to receive probation. Werner is free on bond, but because of his prior record, he is expecting to go back to prison after Judge Pro sentences him.
“Basically everyone’s going to get probation except for me,” Werner said.
Dr. Reefer has already served two stints in prison for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. After he completed his second prison sentence in 2008, he launched a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado, where it is legal to sell the herb to state-approved patients.
|Werner at his Boulder, Colorado dispensary in 2010 before the Legislature banned convicted felons from operating the pot shops|
But after Colorado passed a law forbidding convicted felons from owning a dispensary, Werner returned to Las Vegas, where his involvement with marijuana has made headlines since 2004.
When Dr. Reefer rented billboards in Las Vegas advertising his medical marijuana authorization service, a predictable howl of protest went up from anti-pot community activists.
Werner testified about medical marijuana in March 2009 before the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.
“It is ridiculous to expect people on chemotherapy to grow their own medicine,” he said at the hearing. “We need a system where they can buy it. Charge a $50 per ounce tax, and it would bring in millions for Nevada.”
An undercover detective went to Dr. Reefer on August 5, 2010 and was greeted by Clyde Barnett and Werner, according to federal court records. Werner told the detective that he was taking over the business from his mother.
|Dr. Reefer’s marijuana billboards created controversy in Las Vegas last year. This photo was taken June 19, 2010.|
On Thursday, Werner said he and his mother each owned half of a referral company that helped people get their medical marijuana authorizations. “And then my mom brought in the dispensary,” he said.
Werner failed to disclose his business activities at Dr. Reefer to the Social Security Administration, “knowing that such activity would affect his right to receive” benefits, according to his plea agreement. He admitted getting about $21,000 in benefits “to which he was not entitled” — a spectacularly bad idea when you’re in the medical marijuana business, especially if you’re a convicted felon.
Dr. Reefer said his mother ran the dispensary for less than a month. “I shut it down,” he said. “I wasn’t going to work there unless there was no marijuana being sold out of there.”
When Judge Pro asked Reynalda Barnett whether she knew she was distributing marijuana unlawfully, Barnett sighed and said, “Well, there were 45 dispensaries in Nevada.”
Barnett said the other dispensaries had been operating for months, and “I thought it was acceptable.”
However, Barnett admitted she knew her actions were illegal after the judge probed further.
Judge Pro ordered Barnett to undergo a mental health assessment after a U.S. Pretrial Services official expressed concern over the defendant’s depression. Barnett’s lawyer, Osvaldo Fumo, did not object to the requirement.
“She’s just extremely remorseful, extremely depressed over what she’s done,” Fumo said.
Werner said about 13 medical marijuana dispensaries continue to operate in the area. His attorney, Michael Kimbrell, on Thursday advised their operators to close up shop.
“They’re just a bust waiting to happen,” Kimbrell said.
Werner, who is now living with his mother, said there will be no more trips to Carson City to testify before the Legislature, no more dispensaries, and no more marijuana consulting.
“It’s time for someone else to pick up the fight,” Dr. Reefer said. “I’ve give it everything and so has my family.”