Police find 120 pot plants, cocaine in Scotts Valley home

Cathy Kelly

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   08/05/2012

SCOTTS VALLEY — A 39-year-old man was arrested Friday after officers served a search warrant at his home and discovered about 120 marijuana plants in various stages of development, plus an undisclosed amount of cash and cocaine, police said.

Police obtained a search warrant for the home after receiving information about possible drug sales there, police said.

Matthew Scott Ladage was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana and possession of cocaine, police said.

Officers provided scant details in a press release Saturday evening. They did not state the location of the home. Sunday, a supervising officer who could discuss the case was not available until 7 p.m., dispatchers said.

Three plead no contest to marijuana cultivation at Watsonville warehouse

by Jessica M. Pasko
Santa Cruz Sentinel 08/02/2012

SANTA CRUZ – Three men pleaded no contest to a felony charge of cultivation of marijuana Thursday, stemming from a large-scale growing operation at a warehouse in Watsonville.

Ryan Tate, Brian Lincoln and John Benton were arrested in March after sheriff’s deputies seized 1,600 pot plants from a Walker Street warehouse. Deputies were tipped off to the operation by Watsonville police about six months before the raid.

Search warrants also were executed at Tate’s home in Salinas and at Lincoln’s home in Seaside. All three men originally were charged with possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana.

Tate’s attorney, Ben Rice, said the three men hadn’t intended to run an illegal growing operation and had thought they were in the process of setting up a legal medical marijuana operation. Unfortunately, Rice said, the Sonoma County attorney with whom they spoke gave them incorrect information.

“They thought they’d done it the right way,” Rice said, explaining that Tate and his colleagues had gone through a litany of paperwork in their efforts to establish a legal operation. “I know of at least two instances of that kind of misinformation from out-of-county attorneys.”

Medical marijuana laws and regulations can vary depending on each county and it can be difficult to sort out all of the legal issues, Rice said.

Prosecutor Abel Hung said he couldn’t speculate on what the men’s intention was, but that “the evidence we gathered supported the charges that were filed and what they pleaded to.”

In exchange for their pleas, Tate and Benton will serve 120 days in County Jail, for which Judge Paul Burdick authorized work-release or another form of alternative custody if the Sheriff’s Office deems it appropriate. Lincoln was ordered to serve 90 days in County Jail, and all three men were placed on three years of probation.

Through their attorneys, Benton and Lincoln agreed not to oppose the prosecution’s potential motion for forfeiture of the seized property in civil court. The property includes a scooter and nearly $13,000 seized from Benton, as well as nearly $2,000 cash taken from Lincoln.

Tate, however, did not agree to oppose any motion for forfeiture that the prosecution may seek involving a vehicle and $28,000 cash seized from him.

Tate had put thousands of dollars of his own money into trying to get the operation off the ground, Rice said.

Shootout, arrest at illegal marijuana farm near Mount Madonna County Park

By Stephen BaxterSanta Cruz Sentinel: 06/28/2012

MOUNT MADONNA – A man was shot in the arm and later arrested during a raid of an illegal marijuana grow near Mount Madonna County Park on Thursday.

Deputies searched for a second suspect Thursday afternoon but did not find him, said Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.

They planned to finish the search for the outstanding suspect at sundown Thursday.

The illegal marijuana grow was in a remote area about an hour’s hike southeast of Hecker Pass Road outside the park, said Cardoza. Authorities did not know whether the outstanding suspect had a gun, but two rifles were found near the grow.

“Because it’s such a remote area we don’t believe he’s a threat to public safety,” Cardoza said of the suspect who fled.

About 6 a.m. Thursday, nine Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies and California Fish and Game wardens in a marijuana eradication team started a hike to the marijuana grow above Bodfish Creek.

They arrived and found two men. About 11:45 a.m. deputies fired several shots at them. It was unclear if the suspects fired back, Cardoza said.

One suspect was wounded; both fled.

About 12:30 p.m., Santa Cruz County 911 dispatchers received a call from a Spanish speaking man who said he was shot in the arm. He wanted medical help.

He talked to authorities by cellphone as law enforcement agents tried to find him from the air.

A Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s SWAT team coincidentally had been training in the area, Cardoza said. The man surrendered to them about 2:30 p.m. just off Whitehurst and Hecker Pass Road in Santa Clara County, according to dispatches.

They treated his injury – which authorities said was not life-threatening – and he was taken to a hospital.

The man was arrested on suspicion of illegal marijuana cultivation and faces potential weapons charges, Cardoza said. His name and age have not been released.

“It’s a dangerous operation that these suspects take part in,” Cardoza said of illegal marijuana grows.

Deputies have not yet estimated the size of the grow.

Cardoza said deputies have probed other pot gardens in Southern Santa Clara County near Santa Cruz County in recent years. The marijuana eradication team typically identifies the grows in March and April and raids them during summer harvests.

“It’s not uncommon for them to grow thousands of plants,” Cardoza said. Deputies “pull them out by hand, root and all.”

Thursday afternoon, a few dozen heavily armed deputies from both counties set up a perimeter in the forest south of Mount Madonna County Park. The 3,688-acre park marks the county line between Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

They used ATVs, K-9s and a helicopter in the search. California Highway Patrol officers also participated in the search.

As law enforcement agents staged near a ranger station, the quiet, hot park remained open to joggers, dog walkers, horseback riders and other visitors.

Kevin Campbell, who works at Mount Madonna School, was jogging in the park. He was not surprised that authorities found a marijuana plantation in the woods.

“The biggest thing for me is that they leave their trash,” Campbell said. Campfire cooking also could lead to wildfires, he said.

“It’s mostly the trash, the fire danger and the dudes with guns in the woods. That’s unacceptable,” Campbell said.

Stop the federal pot raids


SF Chronicle, April 5, 2012

A months-long crackdown on medical marijuana by federal prosecutors has reached new heights with this week’s raids on Oakland dispensaries. It’s time to call off the overboard tactics and deal sensibly with regulating a drug that increasing numbers of Americans feel poses little harm.

The latest incident only furthers the tone-deaf image of the U.S. Department of Justice, whose agents stormed well-known medical pot dispensaries in Oakland, the de facto center of efforts to expand marijuana cultivation and use. Since last fall, federal officials have sent warning letters to landlords of outlets and served notice that Washington won’t tolerate medical marijuana sales.

It’s a ridiculous stance that mocks a serious issue. Last fall, federal prosecutors said the therapeutic use of pot had led to abuses, crime and profiteering. Spend 15 minutes outside a dispensary and it’s easy to see their point: a steady stream of customers who hardly resemble the sick and suffering intended to benefit under a “compassionate use” initiative passed by California voters in 1996.

But Prohibition Era-style sweeps won’t work. First, it’s a confusing message coming from the Obama administration, which telegraphed three years ago that a crackdown was a low priority. Since then, the policy has gone in the opposite direction: Stop all sales now.

Second, easing the availability of medical marijuana also has lowered the public’s fear factor of the drug. The result? Washington is losing all credibility by pursing efforts to shut down dispensaries. One of this week’s targets – the Oaksterdam University that teaches pot cultivation and legal rules – suggests that Department of Justice officials make no distinction among operators.

Finally, the federal raids ignore the core of the issue: bridging the gap between unbending federal controls and growing numbers of states, including California, that want updated consideration of the drug.

To be sure, court rulings and legal obstacles make change difficult. In California’s case, there needs to be more debate and study on clarifying a confused picture. The voter-passed initiative didn’t spell out rules on supplying marijuana to dispensaries, quality control, medical standards or financial operations, so there is plenty California can do to clean up its act.

Yet this confusion doesn’t excuse this week’s raids. This state has moved beyond a total ban on marijuana to a new phase: finding a workable way to allow the compassionate use of a drug. Washington should wake up to reality.