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Feds put the squeeze on Hayward marijuana co-op

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

December12, 2006

HAYWARD (BCN) - The owner and manager of a medical marijuana dispensary in Hayward were arrested by U.S. drug and tax agents today on federal marijuana charges.

Local Patients Cooperative owner Shon Squier, 34, and manager Valerie Herschel, 23, are charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Oakland on Monday with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana and maintaining marijuana premises.

They are scheduled to make an initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Wayne Brazil in Oakland on Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan said that in addition to arresting the pair, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service agents seized hundreds of marijuana plants, marijuana cookies and brownies, two inert grenades, cash and several expensive cars today.

The items were seized during searches of the cooperative's premises on Foothill Boulevard, two Hayward residences and two cars, Ryan said.

DEA Special Agent Kenny Lee alleged in an affidavit filed with the complaint that the co op purports to sell the drug to patients under California's medical marijuana law, but in fact sells it to healthy people.

Lee wrote, "I believe that Hayward Local Patients Co-op seeks to disguise the breadth of its criminal activity by claiming that it caters exclusively to people suffering from medical illnesses, when in fact persons without any medical condition can purchase marijuana ... at the retail establishment."

Federal drug laws make no exception for California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which protects patients who use marijuana with a doctor's permission from being prosecuted under state law.

The federal criminal charges against Squier and Herschel each carry a possible maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, but the actual penalty, if they are convicted, would be determined after consideration of U.S. sentencing guidelines.

Even before today's arrests, the cooperative was under order by Hayward City Manager Jesus Armas to cease operations by Dec. 31.

Armas said today that he told Squier on Nov. 3 that the cooperative must close by Dec. 31 because police found substantial amounts of marijuana there this fall in violation of a 2003 operating agreement with the city.

Under the pact, the city agreed to suspend enforcement of certain zoning laws against the cooperative so long as the group had no more than 3 pounds at the site at one time.

Armas said Hayward police found 30 pounds of marijuana at the cooperative in September and allegedly found more than 200 pounds during a second visit in October. Squier disputed the amount found in October, but agreed it was more than 30 pounds, Armas said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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