Brothers’ Victory in Medical Pot Sentence

The Norton brothers ran one of the most successful medical marijuana dispensaries in Northern California until 2007, hauling in $56 million in three years, then the feds raided their Oakland apartment and the Compassionate Patients’ Cooperative in Hayward.

On Tuesday, Winslow Norton will be sentenced in federal court in San Jose, probably to six months in a halfway house and ordered to forfeit plenty of money.  That’s a big victory, considering the government at one point insisted they agree to five years minimum in prison or their mother would be charged as well.

Last week Winslow’s brother, Abraham Norton of Oakland was given six months in a halfway house and ordered to relinquish $600,000, by U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen.  It as part of a plea deal with the government.

The pair were charged with federal crimes even though medical marijuana use is legal in California and the brothers had an operating permit from AlamedaCounty and said they were assured by the county sheriff that the federal government would ignore them if they complied with the law.

But the dispensary became hugely successful and was a little too big to be ignored.

California voters approved Prop. 215 in 1996, known as the Compassionate Use Act, it allowed medical use of marijuana when deemed appropriate by a doctor.  But pot remained an illegal substance federally and subject to criminal prosecution for use, possession and cultivation.

In 2007, federal agents stormed the Oakland apartment the Norton’s shared, dragged them outside and arrested them.

They had operated one of the most successful medical marijuana dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area, pulling in $26 million in just the first six months of 2007.

They were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana and money laundering.  They faced a potential of at least 15 years in prison.

Early in the process the prosecutors insisted the brothers take a five-year minimum prison term, according to the brothers.  They said no, and instead offered to plead guilty to conspiracy and let Jensen set the sentence.

But the prosecutor said no and, according to one of the Norton’s lawyers, threatened to indict their mother.  Then in 2009, the government indicted their father and a co-worker instead, and added a more serious crime of carrying a firearm to further a drug crime.  That would carry up to life in prison, but at least five years.

The Norton’s had no guns, but they did hire a professional security company to patrol the co-op and the guards had guns.

The Norton’s decided to fight and continued to battle in court.  The Justice Department ultimately backed off the use of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug charges.

And their father, Michael Norton, and the dispensary manager, were placed on probation last week.  Mom was never charged.

Case:  U.S. v. Norton, No. CR07-683DLJ

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