Valley marijuana patients lost another over-the-counter source for their meds earlier this month when Gilbert police raided Arizona Natural Solutions in Mesa.
The cannabis/compassion club at 1055 North Mesa Drive had been operating since at least February, when its principals began its Facebook page and incorporated as a non-profit business in Arizona. Billing itself as a "cooperative educational center," ANS also distributed killer bud to patients, as its Facebook site shows.
Gilbert police raided the place on October 5, serving a search warrant and seizing "suspected marijuana, candy, cookies, powder, suspected ecstasy, and US currency," Gilbert police Sergeant Jesse Sanger wrote to New Times. No information was offered about the reason for the raid.
Paul Bellesen, 22, Chad Czarnecki, 24, and Robert Ryan, 25, are accused of selling pot and "narcotics," (this is another example of police wanting to utilize the ludicrous state statute that defines marijuana products like hashish as something other than marijuana), and possessing drug paraphernalia. Police also want Bellesen charged with possessing a firearm as part of a drug offense.
Although the raid occurred nearly a month ago, Gilbert police failed to issue a news release about it for some reason. We heard about the bust from a reader, but Mesa and Phoenix police disavowed knowledge of it. We only recently heard that it had been Gilbert's doing, and Sanger confirmed that. But we'll just point here that police in Gilbert, Phoenix and Tempe have all taken part in raids of compassion clubs, but the agencies never put out news releases about these actions. It's as if they're embarrassed at what they're doing.
At the least, police know the foundation for these raids is not as firm as in a non-medical-marijuana-related drug bust. Last year, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne declared that compassion clubs are breaking the law if they're distributing marijuana, even if the clubs claim they merely give away pot for "free" to donation-paying members. Horne asked a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to rule that the clubs' business model is illegal under the voter-approved, 2010 medical-marijuana law. But the case was settled without any resolution of the clubs' legal status.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a staunch prohibitionist, has his prosecutors busy on a few different criminal cases involving medical-pot clubs and their operators, (like Allan Sobol, whom we wrote about in August). But the cases have taken a while to wend through the courts, and there have been no convictions yet.
Besides the clubs already raided, police have announced publicly that they have several investigations active on other businesses. The Green Cross in Mesa, for example, has been under investigation since the bust of the makers of Zonka Bars. And Tempe police say that Top Shelf Meds, where an employee was shot by an unknown assailant last week, is currently under investigation.
Arizona Natural Solutions put out a short note on Facebook on October 8 to give members some info about what happened.
"Sorry to all patients but to let you know, we are all ok and safe. Love you guys it was all worth it if I even helped one person, Love, You know who," a post by the club states.
Asked by a Facebook friend if cops shut them down, ANS replied, "Not shut down. They came and went threw [sic] everything. We are choosing to close the doors."
The club's friends lament the action in their responses. One, from Chris Benhoff, says, " As a cancer patient i hate to see this. Good people like paul who help people like me should be rewarded not punished. Stay up paul your a great person- chris patient 150."
More than 32,000 medical-marijuana patients are now registered in Arizona, but right-wing leaders in the state have so far thwarted voters' wishes for state-authorized dispensaries. As long as they remain open, the cannabis/compassion clubs are these legal pot patients' only alternative to the black market.