Marijuana

Zonka Bar Bust: Arizona's Anti-Pot Zealots Throw Medical-Marijuana Entrepreneurs in Jail

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In seemingly schizophrenic Arizona, 841,346 voters passed a liberal law that legalizes marijuana for those with certain medical ailments, but the state is governed by rabid conservatives who are some of the law's most vocal opponents.

Local law enforcement officials could be taking a different approach to this very political issue. They could exercise reasonable discretion, but they've chosen to side with the prohibitionists.

State law is part of the problem. Not the new law, but the old, obsolete law -- the one that says possession of a single grain of marijuana is a felony and that selling, growing or transporting marijuana or the "narcotic" of "cannabis" are serious felonies. Cops love making felony arrests -- and usually, it's a good thing. Not in this case, though.

The new and old laws are creating unjust and drastic differences in the way law enforcement deals with marijuana. It's like if lengthy prison sentence were threatened for selling alcohol without a license or carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, (before the new law that says you don't even need a permit to carry a concealed weapon).

For the most part, police are alleging that Martin and his associates sold a product labeled as medical marijuana to various compassion clubs, which sold them to medical-marijuana patients.

Without doubt, this has something do with the burgeoning medical-marijuana industry authorized by the 2010 law. Law enforcement officials aren't seeing it that way, though.

A Yavapai County task force that calls itself PANT (Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking) led a lengthy and expensive investigation into Zonka bars. A September 17 news release from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office about the bust is entitled: "P.A.N.T. takes out Drug Sales Syndicate -- Items Sold Included Cannabis Candy and Treats."

Four people have been arrested so far: Christopher Lee Martin, 37, and Andrea Lyn Martin, 33, of Prescott, Todd James, 40, and Christopher Goodrich, 39, both of Phoenix. Other people may be arrested or charged as the investigation continues, cops say.

Raids took place on September 12 and 13 at:

* A commercial kitchen at 1732 West Bell in Phoenix

* The Joint ReLeaf Compassion Club, 3143 East Roosevelt; AZ CPC, 1833 East Indian School Road; and Green Cross, 1000 East Indian School Road, and the home of Todd James, all in Phoenix.

* And in Prescott, The Green Cross, 919 12th Place #14, and Hippie Village Emporium, 635 Walnut Road.

Authorities seized 20 pounds of marijuana, "hundreds" of Zonka bars and other candies made by the company and about $70,000 in cash. Numerous firearms also were recovered (though that would be the case with a raid of many homes in Arizona.)

Martin was the leader and master chef who created the line of candy bars and other products, police allege.

Authorities say the investigation began with a tip to Silent Witness, plus other citizen complaints.

But it's not like the Zonka company was skulking around a street corner or attending meetings with Los Zetas. They've been advertising on the Internet since April. Their website still was up today, advertising pot-infused candy bars, lollipops, and ice cream. The site has rolling banners that warn against use by children and recommend getting the advice of a doctor.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.