Addison DeMoura still wants to do business in Oakdale, even after drug agents raided his medical marijuana dispensary and took him from his house -- handcuffed and in underwear, he said -- as a newspaper reporter snapped photographs.
Now, more than two years after his arrest, the case against DeMoura, 35, and the Oakdale Natural Choice Collective has come up empty.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley agreed last month to dismiss a host of felony charges against DeMoura, his wife and employees for lack of evidence.
Ashley said law enforcement officers left out "very important" facts when they asked for a search warrant for the East F Street collective. One of those facts, the defense argued, was that a confidential informant sent by agents to buy marijuana had a valid medical recommendation as required by California law.
"It's a huge victory for medical marijuana patients and providers," said Kris Hermes of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "I think this decision is something for other courts to take heed of across the state."
Prosecutor Shawn Barlow said it was "highly unlikely" he would refile charges against DeMoura. But he said the district attorney's office will continue to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries running afoul of state law.
"This is not a referendum or a victory for medical marijuana, far from it," Barlow said. "These storefront dispensaries are often fronts for illegal activities, including large-scale marijuana cultivation and sales. ... We're not just going to stand by and let those things happen."
Although growing, selling and using medical marijuana is allowed under state law, Modesto and four other Stanislaus County cities have banned medical marijuana sales, according to Americans for Safe Access. Oakdale is among the cities that have passed moratoriums on pot sales. The city did so shortly after the Natural Choice Collective opened in April 2007.
Oakdale's moratorium has expired, said Police Chief Marty West, so council members will have to act quickly in deciding whether to ban or allow medical marijuana sales within the city limit.
"There was a lot of public outcry over the dispensary because a lot of people felt it was a criminal enterprise," West said. "This community's not going to be real receptive to a marijuana dispensary. My position is it's likely we're not going to allow it."
The county is one of seven in the state to pass a ban for unincorporated areas, but the legality of such bans is being litigated in appellate courts, Hermes said.
Just this year, Stanislaus County supervisors grudgingly allowed the county health department to issue medical marijuana cards, required under a state law ordering jurisdictions to comply with California's Compassionate Use Act.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said anyone seeking to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Stanislaus County will attract the attention of law enforcement.
"If you're a drug trafficking organization, if you grow, you possess, you sell marijuana for profit, I'm coming after you," Christianson said. "Do I support medical marijuana dispensaries in my jurisdiction? Absolutely not."
Last month, the Justice Department took a significant departure from the Bush administration's policy on enforcing federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.
It announced that people who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution as long as they conform to state law.
The end to DeMoura's case is in stark contrast to the federal prosecution of Luke Scarmazzo and business partner Ricardo Montes, who ran a McHenry Avenue dispensary before it was raided in September 2006.
A month before Scarmazzo was arrested on federal drug charges, he released a music video called "Business Man," in which he flashes wads of cash, raises both middle fingers to the camera and says "(expletive) the feds."
Each earned more than 20 years in prison after prosecutors argued that the pair were essentially drug dealers, raking in $6 million to $9 million in less than two years of operation. The two men cast themselves as crusaders fighting for the rights of medical marijuana users. Their defense attorney said they sometimes had guns for security.
DeMoura said he's no Luke Scarmazzo.
"I have no criminal record, I have no guns registered to my name," DeMoura said. "I'm Mother Teresa in this thing."
He said he's not done with Oakdale.
DeMoura wants to reopen a marijuana collective there, where his former collective once served more than 600 patients in the three months it was open. He believes the outcome would net the city $300,000 a year in sales tax.
DeMoura filed a federal civil rights lawsuit July 31 against Oakdale, the county and several law enforcement officers who raided the dispensary and his house. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money.
Initial claims by DeMoura asked for nearly $2 million for lost revenue, medical marijuana seized, equipment seized or destroyed in the raid, damage to the home, and business and legal costs.
He said he doesn't expect a penny but wants to clear his name in the town where he once lived and where his wife grew up.
"We're activists. We're not criminals; we're not thugs," DeMoura said in a recent interview before his 5-year-old son's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. "I love to fight. To fight for a cause is an empowering feeling."
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.