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Pot POWs Head Home as AUMA Opens the Gates for California Cannabis Prisoners

Dabs have taken center stage in the cannabis expo scene, particularly in California, where Dabbenport Extracts makes its home.
PHOTO Gracie Malley


Pot POWs Head Home as AUMA Opens the Gates for California Cannabis Prisoners

Nuts and bolts policy arguments characterized much of the often-heated debate surrounding California’s Adult Use Of Marijuana Act. But when Californians went to the polls last week, the broad social justice benefits of legalization were the overwhelming concern for the more than 55 percent of voters who approved AUMA. 

Prior to election day, there were rumblings that many California District Attorneys were waiting on the outcome of the AUMA vote to move on cannabis cases. Recent developments seems to confirm those rumors, as various charges in relatively high-profile cases have been lowered to misdemeanors or infractions since pot won at the polls.

AUMA puts the terp train back on the tracks

Of all the cannabis cases that have seen DA action following Tuesday, none has been more at the forefront of industry discussion than that of Dabbenport Extracts.

Dabbenport found themselves on the wrong side of the law following a traffic stop over a minor violation.

Joe Phillips, brother of Dabbenport Extracts CEO Chris Phillips, and two Dabbenport employees were traveling home from another successful cannabis cup. It was late, they were tired and they didn’t want to stop at their shop too late at night, so they decided to head directly home. 

This meant when they had their unfortunate encounter with law enforcement, they were still in possession of the kind of product you might expect a concentrate company to have at a cannabis cup — in this case roughly 1,100 separately packaged units, ranging in weight from a gram to a gram-and-a-half.

To make matters worse, Joe, being new to California, had some trouble remembering an address, which led to the men being arrested. All of the medicine was confiscated, along with $400 in cash the group had on their persons.

Information found on one of the Dabbenport employee’s lead police to Phillips’ home, where he was arrested. 

The first day in court, the team was still using their public defenders, much to the delight of the well-funded prosecution. The following day they showed up with a legal team including veteran cannabis attorney and activist Bill Panzer and NorCal-based attorney Joseph Tully.

As he had so many times in the past, Panzer navigated the case around the incident flawlessly. With the assistance of his co-councilor, Tully, Panzer forced one District Attorney after another to exit the case. This near-constant state of transition on the prosecution side has made it functionally impossible for the Dabbenport team to even enter a plea.

“They had six District Attorneys with their aides there all taking notes, they were blown away the day before,” Phillips said. “Now none of them want to take the case, every week we get a new one. We still haven’t been able to plead to our counts yet, even though we know they’re going to be reduced to misdemeanors.”

With all this drama lead up to election night, whether in courtrooms or on Instagram, it only seems appropriate the voters of California would have more or less the final say on the case.

“With Proposition 64 passing, all of our cultivation felonies and distribution felonies drop to  misdemeanors no matter what,” Phillips said. “It looks like now out of the four of us,  two of us are going to get infractions, and my brother and I will get misdemeanors for having over an ounce for personal use.” 

Ironically, the concentrate scene that Dabbenport is such a beloved fixture of was also one of the most contentious places in general when it came to the Proposition 64 debate.

Phillips admits that even he was skeptical of AUMA at first, but he still has some sharp criticism for industry peers who came out swinging against the law that ultimately freed him, his brother, and employees.

“I think it was a lot of propaganda and a lot of people being naive, They didn’t take no time to read all 60 plus pages. At the beginning, even with the case, I was against 64 and didn’t believe it was going to work,” he said. “A few weeks prior to the election I sat down to read the whole thing. I realized my rights as a medical user were protected and it was focused on people who don’t have a recommendation. Me as a medical provider, me as a medical producer, I’m not going anywhere. If folks can’t follow the guidelines it’s on them. I decided the people who didn’t want to deal with regulation strictly for the sake of personal gain were greedy, greedy people.” 

The Gates are Opening

Though the story of Dabbenport has received the bulk of media coverage, it is far from a one-off. 

In a statement on Facebook, AUMA-backer and court-recognized expert witness on medical cannabis, Chris Conrad, said he just lost a potential client because of the new law. 

“I just got a call from a potential client facing two pot felonies. Told him they are now both misdemeanors! Unless he wants to fight them, he has no need to pay me,” Conrad said. “No need to pay an attorney, just walk into court and have a judge take Judicial notice that Prop. 64 changed penalties and section 11361.8 makes it retroactive.”

One of the most heart-warming post-Prop 64 tales so far comes from Dr. Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.

She said thanks to AUMA, a man who remained locked up because simply couldn’t afford his bail is now free.

“My favorite story was of an older African American gentleman who had been arrested for possession with intent to sell, which is a felony and totally up to the police officer to charge instead of simple possession. This man could not afford bail, so he was just sitting in jail, he had not even been tried yet. He sat there for months.” Reiman said. “Then, when he was finally set to go before the judge, his felony was reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 64, and because he has been sitting there all those months, he had completed any possible sentence given under the new law and was released that day!” said Reiman.

This is just the first wave of Drug War POWs being released under AUMA. Expect many families to be reunited in the coming months as folks begin to appeal convictions under the new sentencing guidelines attached to Prop 64.

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