by Kimberly Rivers
It is said that the wheels of justice are turning slowly. In the case of the arrest and seizure of hundreds of thousands of medicinal cannabis products in 2016, this saying sounds true.
At press time, Chelsea Sutula, founder and operator of Sespe Creek Collective, an Ojai-based cannabis dispensary, is still awaiting the return of medical marijuana products that were seized in a 2016 raid on their offices and home and by the Ventura Sheriff’s Department County, all charges were eventually dismissed by the court. Finally, on September 28, 2021, almost five years later, the court ordered the confiscated products to be returned to them.
“This is the final chapter in my 2016 criminal case,” said Sutula. Computers and some other items were returned to her last year. “They wouldn’t return all of the cannabis until the statute of limitations on all charges has expired,” she believes. Her attorney filed a motion for the return of all confiscated items, which was granted, the Ventura District Attorney has raised no objections, and yet she is still waiting.
“I have a hard time calling someone,” said Sutula. The documents are all signed and deposited with the court and have the signature of the judge. On October 12, the court said the sheriff should accept her papers, but the sheriff told her that they would officially need them from the court. “You make me run around. As soon as this phase is completed, I can claim damages. “
The cannabis products are “not usable, not for sale” because they have been in the evidence room since 2016. “I have to destroy it by law.”
Sutula’s office and home were searched and she was arrested a week before the Tuesday November 8, 2016 election when California voters declared her medical and recreational marijuana ballots legal.
Today “technically as licensed cannabis” [dispensary] Business I don’t have a transport ticket, so I am legally not allowed to transport to myself [licensed place of business]. ”To comply with the wording of the law, Sutula must hire a licensed van to pick it up and bring it to their offices, where she can destroy it. She said her attorney advised her that if she is acting on behalf of her licensed pharmacy, especially since the product is being destroyed, it is probably okay to ship it to her pharmacy for destruction.
Sutula estimates what was confiscated to be approximately $ 350,000 “market value, resale at time of ingestion.” I kept a fairly accurate inventory. ”She said the way it was seized and included in the court order was, in my opinion,“ an outright pretense of due process. . . when they took all the property during the raid they say 27 bags of marijuana. Under no circumstance. They threw it all in the trash bags and called it a bag. ”Marijuana was often packed in small plastic bags with zippers.
A morning raid in SWAT equipment
Proposition 64 was put to the vote in November 2016. The law asked Californians whether adults should be allowed to legally consume cannabis for non-medicinal purposes.
“I was very vocal and active,” Sutula recalls. “Mainly in Ojai, the only city willing to work with us instead of just banning pharmacies like everywhere else. I was speaking at a community meeting, everyone knew who I was. “
At the time, her pharmacy was in a nondescript industrial park in Oxnard. It was just a delivery service. “Nobody knew where we were. It was a non-profit, medical-only collective. Fully in compliance with SB420 and Prop 214. We paid all taxes, our employees were employees, not contractors. We paid for workers’ compensation insurance, everything we could to comply. “
She recalled it was around 9:30 a.m. at the Oxnard site on Thursday, November 3rd. “The Oxnard Police Department was involved. The officers knocked on the door and said, ‘Sheriff’s Department, open up.’ “
She remembered how absurd the officers looked in full SWAT gear. “We were taken out and asked to wait at the curb. The first thing they did was unplug all video cameras. They spent their time hooting and yelling. They were excited. . . a field day in their new equipment. Pack things up. I was interviewed more than once without access to my lawyer. “
Sutula believed they were “convinced that I would produce there, that they would find butane, a hash oil laboratory or cultivation. They came in so unsuspecting. Little did they know it was just an office. “
She was charged with double perjury, maintained a place for the sale of a controlled substance, and possessed marijuana.
That night, she was interrogated for several hours without access to a lawyer. “I was in a cell there and then was transferred to the main prison.” She was booked and taken to a holding cell with people for DUIs. “I wasn’t given any food or water for about 18 hours. It was pretty shitty. “
“They raided my house,” she continued. “You asked me to hand over the key, otherwise they’ll break in the door. When I asked to see the warrant, Officer James Landford said, “These are not the movies,” it was a sealed warrant. They could do what they wanted. “
Her house in Thousand Oaks was searched. “My pets were confiscated that night. I was able to arrange for a friend to come and look after her. ”But the sheriff’s department moved all of their pets to the Camarillo Animal Shelter. The first thing she did after she was released from prison was “get her out. I had to pay to get them out. They all came home with kennel cough. “
The raid spelled the end of the pharmacy.
“When they attacked us, they obviously took the entire inventory with them. Everyone lost their jobs. That was the end of that special moment. I spent one night in prison and was released the next day. “
Around the same time, the city of Ojai issued an emergency ordinance to regulate pharmacies and the community rallied “around Jeff Kroll”. [Shangri La Care Cooperative], there was a similar action against him. “
Since Ojai now allows pharmacies, she applied for a license. “I had to find investors, starting from scratch. . . and abandoned 40% of [my] Justice of the collective. “Sutula was able to restart a pharmacy.” We hired several people and opened exactly one year later in Ojai… 19 months after my arrest, all charges were dropped not found guilty. “
Geoff Dean was the Ventura County Sheriff at the time of the raid. He did not stand for re-election in 2018.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why the items confiscated from Sutula have not yet been returned to her.