Northstone Organics, a medical marijuana cooperative based in Mendocino County, appears to be about as legitimate as such an organization can be.
It has a Mendocino County Sheriff's permit to grow medical marijuana as a cooperative, undergoes county inspections and its plants are tagged with Sheriff's Office zip ties, a measure aimed at protecting them from being seized by law enforcement.
"If what Northstone Organics is doing isn't legal, no collective or cooperative is legal," said Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen, who spearheaded the county's medical marijuana permit program.
But the legal precautions, which cost the cooperative about $8,500 a year, could not guarantee safe passage of marijuana through Sonoma County.
Daniel Harwood, 33, of Willits, and Timothy Tangney, 29, of Lucerne, were twice stopped by Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies in October while driving through Sonoma County on their way to deliver medicinal pot to co-op members in the Bay Area. Both are members of the cooperative.
The two, who were stopped on consecutive days, were told they were pulled over for traffic violations: speeding in one case and not using a turn signal in the second instance. Deputies said the smell of pot led them to search the vehicles, confiscate the marijuana and issue citations to the alleged offenders.
Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, who is reprenting the two drivers, said something else is at play.
"They've been profiling young people driving in rental cars," he said of sheriff's deputies.
Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas denied the profiling allegation.
"Absolutely not," he said.