Raid of Santa Rosa cannabis oil raises questions

The police raid that halted production of a popular line of cannabis oil-infused products made in Santa Rosa has raised questions about the safety of marijuana extraction methods.|

The Wednesday police raid that halted production of a popular line of cannabis oil-infused products made in Santa Rosa - and widely distributed throughout California - has revealed the deep political connections of a homegrown collective and raised questions about the safety of marijuana extraction methods.

At least 150 medical marijuana patients, activists and supporters of the CBD Guild collective filled the steps outside the Sonoma County Superior Courthouse on Thursday. They demanded an end of criminalization of the medical marijuana industry.

From the steps, Santa Rosa attorney Joe Rogoway, who represents the guild, said the group was “trying to be a model for the industry,” which is gaining more legitimacy as the state has begun building a regulatory structure for businesses, nearly two decades after voters legalized marijuana as medicine.

“Sonoma County is at the vanguard of all the good things the cannabis industry represents,” Rogoway said.

Hours after the rally, the only person arrested during the raids was released from jail without having to pay bail and without having any charges filed against him, Rogoway said.

Dennis Franklin Hunter, 43, of Rohnert Park had been described as a key figure in the collective both by police and officials with the nonprofit. His bail had been set at $5 million because of his history of fleeing police, including a four-year stint on the lam that ended in 2002. He later served a federal prison sentence for cultivating a 12,000-plant pot farm in Humboldt County.

“We are elated that Dennis has been released and we compliment the DA’s office in making a correct decision in choosing not to go forward (with charges),” said Rogoway, who is also Hunter’s attorney.

Hunter was no longer listed as an inmate on the Sonoma County jail’s website.

Throughout the day Thursday, Santa Rosa police officials continued analyzing a trove of seized equipment, computers and products from several properties affiliated with the CBD Guild and its product lines - Absolute Xtracts and Care By Design.

Narcotics Sgt. Rich Celli said the investigation started five days ago with a tip that the conditions for the group’s workers were not safe at a Circadian Way laboratory. Describing the guild’s business as “massive,” Celli said police believe it was bringing in “millions of dollars monthly.” He said police seized “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.”

“When you’re looking at the manufacturing part of it, how it’s being done, we believe (it) is illegal,” Celli said. “Many people believe the law is in flux - it’s not, don’t do it.”

Rogoway and guild spokesman Nick Caston disputed Celli’s contention that high-pressured carbon dioxide compressors used by the company are dangerous.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch issued a statement Thursday reaffirming her support for the use and production of medical cannabis, but said her office was working with law enforcement to determine whether the working conditions and hazardous materials procedures at the guild’s facility violated any laws.

“My focus at this time is to determine whether any laws have been violated which would endanger public safety or the environment,” her statement said.

The CBD Guild is a Santa Rosa-?based nonprofit producing popular brands of products including Care By Design cannabinoid gel caps and Absolute Xtracts’ cannabis oil vape pen cartridges.

The organization has significant brand recognition statewide and the financial clout to retain veteran local political lobbyist Herb Williams. Williams said guild representatives asked him to work for them last year, after the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act was signed into law in October.

Williams defended the group’s practices and said he had a private investigator review the organization and its leaders before agreeing to work with them.

“The guild was manufacturing under that law passed by the voters of this state, and we have thousands of patients to validate that,” Williams said.

He said it’s his first client involved with marijuana. He is familiar with the medical cannabis field because he has used it for four years to help treat arthritis.

“I was using their products before I met them (and) didn’t know who they were,” Williams said.

Williams said he was in the car Wednesday morning when he received word police were raiding the Circadian Way laboratory. He headed straight to the facility.

The law enforcement action “was a surprise to all of us,” he said.

“I think (CBD Guild is) setting the standards for the industry and I’m glad to be part of it,” Williams said.

The raid came as the city is poised to establish an ordinance permitting certain kinds of concentrated cannabis oil manufacturing.

The city council’s medical marijuana policy subcommittee is expected later this month to review a draft ordinance put together by the planning department, said City Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, who is on the subcommittee.

Carlstrom said the city could have an ordinance allowing certain kinds of concentrated cannabis manufacturing by the end of summer. She said the subcommittee is still waiting to learn more about carbon dioxide extraction methods to decide whether they will be allowed under the ordinance. Carlstrom noted the council, which includes two retired Santa Rosa police officers, voted unanimously to support the inclusion of manufacturing in their zoning policies.

Carlstrom is on the subcommittee with fellow council members Gary Wysocky and Ernesto Olivares, but her connections to the industry run deeper. She works for Rogoway’s firm and was, until last year, married to Nick Caston, a spokesman for the CBD Guild.

When asked if the raid would have taken place if the city had already adopted a cannabis manufacturing ordinance, Carlstrom said, “To be honest I can’t speak to that.

“I think that in another six weeks this would be a very different conversation. But that’s not the conversation we can have right now. What the city is trying to do is create predictable and clear rules for these businesses to follow,” she said.

Thursday’s crowd included well-known figures among North Coast marijuana growers associations and patient advocate groups.

Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, led the rally, calling for an end to marijuana prohibition and a stop to the criminalization of the people trying to work within California’s medical marijuana laws.

People carried signs with slogans including “We are patients, not criminals” and chanted “Free Dennis Hunter.”

Martin Lee, with a Sonoma County organization called Project CBD, told the crowd the law enforcement action against Hunter and his company was “attacking the entire community of patients.”

“What has happened within the last 24 hours is devastating,” Lee said.

Sarah Shrader with Americans for Safe Access’ Sonoma County chapter said she was disappointed potential civil code violations at the business were being used to criminalize a business trying to lawfully make medicine.

“It’s time to stop raiding our providers and hurting our patients,” Shrader said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie? Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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