Allan Sobol, the brash medical-marijuana marketer who got himself busted last year for opening a compassion club, has pleaded guilty to selling pot along with three former club employees.
We profiled Sobol earlier this year in a feature story (see link below), chronicling his fights with other members of the medical-marijuana industry as well as local law-enforcement authorities.
Hated by many in the industry for his cut-throat business tactics, he was an early adopter of the compassion/cannabis club movement, opening a storefront location in which qualified medical-marijuana patients could join a club for a stiff fee and receive "free" marijuana in return. After Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne declared the clubs were likely acting illegally under the voter-approved 2010 Medical Marijuana Act and sought a judge's opinion to back him up, Sobol told the news media he'd close immediately if the judge ruled his club was unlawful.
The case ended recently with a settlement instead of a firm opinion about the clubs' legality, and several clubs continue to operate around the state while state-approved dispensaries have yet to open.
But well before the judge in that civil case ruled, Phoenix police sent in undercover officers to the 2811 Club who encountered a system that seemed more like retail sales than patient-to-patient sharing. Following an October 2011 raid on the club, Sobol and five others were slapped with 10 felony counts that could have put them in prison for years.
Two of the employees, Stephen Michael and Dawn Cammllarie, took plea deals in May to one felony count of selling pot, and were later sentenced to a year of probation and a $10,000 fine.
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Sobol, a de-certified legal document preparer and private eye who prefers to serve as his own attorney, told the New Times before our August feature article that he and the remaining "Phoenix Four" defendants, as he called them, would prefer to stick it out on the defense that the club was serving patients legally.
But in the end, the possibility of getting no prison time likely changed his opinion. He and the other three former club employees have taken the same plea deal as the Cammllaries. They'll presumably be able to stay out of prison, too, when they're sentenced on December 14.
Though the issue of the compassion clubs' legality still hasn't been tested in court, the plea deals are a victory for Horne and Maricopa County Bill Montgomery, two Republicans who have taken a strong stance against the clubs and the issue of medical marijuana in general.
But for the prosecutor's office, the win must be somewhat bittersweet considering the state's chief opponent in this case -- the high-profile Sobol -- was struck down by a still-unconfirmed illness several weeks ago and is said in court documents to be struggling with memory problems. After we heard about his rumored brain embolism several weeks ago, we talked to one of his associates who told us Sobol was in the hospital and uncommunicative. Sobol hasn't returned our calls since then.