From 2010 until his arrest on corruption and bribery charges last summer, former union organizer Dan Rush was a fixture in the medical cannabis movement.
A nationwide figure with the United Food and Commercial Workers — which supported legalization effort Prop. 19 in 2010 — and a member of the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission, Rush is credited with bringing cannabis industry workers into organized labor and giving cannabis political legitimacy in return.
That all ended with a lengthy FBI investigation and a subsequent indictment on multiple felonies last fall. Rush was fired from UFCW, which has since had great difficulty convincing other cannabis workers to organize.
And it was all a setup, Rush claims — payback from the federal Justice Department for his anti-prohibition organizing, according to court filings made last week by his defense attorneys.
“His efforts were in accordance with the will of California citizens but very much in opposition to the United States Attorney’s sinister, punitive and ill-advised campaign against decriminalization,” Rush’s attorneys wrote in a motion filed last week.
In a response, prosecutors for United States Attorney Brian Stretch called the allegations “unsubstantiated.”
Rush, 55, was arrested in July 2015 and later indicted by a grand jury. According to prosecutors, he took $550,000 from a group of Oakland cannabis business people — and, when he could not pay it back, later promised some cannabis investors in Las Vegas that he could rig a union organizing process against the workers.
Prosecutors say this began when the cannabis business people — which includes Derek Peterson, the CEO of publicly-traded cannabis company Terra Tech and a partner in Oakland dispensary Blum — went to the feds after they could not get their money back. Rush’s former lawyer, Marc Terbeek, also turned on Rush after a January 2015 raid of his law offices, after which time telephone calls and other conversations between the two were turned over to the feds.
But according to his defense attorneys, Rush was caught up in a federal corruption investigation that targeted state and local officials named “Operation Limelight,” according to court filings. That sting began in Dec. 2011, during the U.S. Justice Department’s crackdown on state-legal medical cannabis dispensaries.
Rush was a vocal critic of then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against Harborside Health Center and Berkeley Patients Group, two of the biggest dispensaries in California — and, according to Rush’s attorneys, the union honcho’s outspokenness eventually made him a “clear target of the federal investigation.”
The feds “compensated and promised leniency to a motley crew of criminals and opportunists to create a case against him, a government onslaught that coincided with Mr. Rush’s vigorous efforts to make medical marijuana available to needy patients though distribution centers staffed by Union workers he helped organize under the auspices of the UFCW.”
For those reasons, his attorneys plan to file motions to dismiss the case alleging “outrageous government conduct” and vindictive prosecution.
Rush was initially scheduled to go to trial in October. On Monday, a federal judge agreed to delay Rush’s trial date to January 2017.
Do you think Rush was unfairly targeted?