A member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and a sheriff's sergeant testified Thursday in a Santa Rosa courtroom on behalf of two employees of a Ukiah medical marijuana cooperative charged with transporting pot through Sonoma County.
Supervisor John McCowen and Sgt. Randy Johnson testified in the preliminary hearing for Daniel Harwood, 33, of Willits and Timothy Tangney, 29, of Lucerne.
The employees of Northstone Organics were stopped twice in two days on Highway 101 near Cloverdale while delivering marijuana to people in the Bay Area. About three pounds of marijuana was seized and the men were each charged with four felonies.
McCowen testified their marijuana cooperative was in full compliance with Mendocino County's medical marijuana ordinance, which is based on state law and follows guidelines handed down by the Attorney General.
He said the ordinance allows Northstone to grow and distribute marijuana and that he was aware that meant driving through Sonoma County.
"That's the most direct route between them and the Bay Area," McCowen testified.
Johnson, who runs Mendocino County's medical marijuana program, also testified that the cooperative could transport marijuana and sell it to people with a doctor's recommendation.
However, under questioning from prosecutor Scott Jamar, Johnson conceded the ordinance was valid only in Mendocino County. McCowen also said the ordinance did not authorize distribution to the nine Bay Area counties and that he never told the defendants they could transport marijuana outside the county.
In a line of questioning suggesting potential bias, Jamar asked Johnson about fees his county collected from Northstone director Matt Cohen and 91 other permitted growers in his county.
Johnson said cooperatives with up to 99 plants each pay an initial $1,500 application fee, $50 per plant and up to $2,000 a year for periodic inspections.
Harwood and Tangney were cited twice in two days last year by the same Sonoma County sheriff's deputy patrolling the same stretch of freeway.
They were cited with criminal charges despite presenting documentation that they worked for a medical marijuana cooperative.
Pot advocates said the case points up inconsistencies in the way state law is interpreted. Some have criticized Sonoma County as being too harsh.
Bill Panzer, an Oakland marijuana defense lawyer representing Harwood and Tangney, said the fact that an elected official and law enforcement officer would testify for him suggests the case lacks merit.
"How many drug dealers get that?" he said outside court. "The courts and the attorney general have clearly said they can distribute."