In 2004, two brothers, Abraham and Winslow Norton, opened their first business, a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, California. Nearly a decade after medical marijuana became legal in the state, it was still a promising business venture and the boys were eager to get started. They took in $74,000 their first year at theCompassionate Collective of Alameda County (later changed to Compassionate Patients’ Cooperative).
A year later, that rose to $1.3 million and a year after that.. $26 million. They then beat the 2006 record in the first six months of 2007. That’s when the federal drug enforcement authorities decided to swoop in.
Despite being completely legal in California, the dispensary was not legal to the federal government. This despite the fact that the two brothers paid all of their state and federal taxes, took salaries rather than percentages of profit from the business, and were completely legal within California’s laws and were well-liked in the community.
Everyone, according to the Norton’s attorney, liked them. The Sheriff’s department regularly inspected the place, as per the law, county officials loved the tax revenue and employment the boys provided, local charities were gladly supported by the brothers, and more.
For this, the feds decided to raid their business, confiscate their home and cars, clean out their bank accounts, and book them on 23 felony counts (each).
“A word to the wise, while it is smart to save for your future, it is smarter to obey the law. Today’s enforcement operation once again enlightens the public of the true nature and motive behind marijuana distribution centers – money,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Peña. “DEA will continue to work with our counterparts in law enforcement to take the illicit profits, proceeds and plants generated by these organizations.”
Ironically, it appears that much of the evidence to be used against the brothers comes from their IRS records, with the IRS’ Criminal Investigation wing acting in concert with the DEA.1
The criminal part of the story has been unfolding slowly for the past three years. As the boys fight for their lives against 40+ years of potential incarceration, others in the community have come forward to fight with them.
A Twitter site and center for information on the Norton’s story called FreeTheBoys2 was created by someone close to the family and is being updated regularly with new information, court dates, etc. The most recent of these was the filing of a motion by the federal prosecutor and then a motion to dismiss by the defense to add the charge of “possession of firearms.” This refers to the armed guards the dispensary kept (as many do) to protect the premises from theft and robbery.3
As it stands, the two brothers face decades in prison for doing nothing more than running a business legally under California law. They didn’t even cheat on their taxes, which many in federal government (that’s you, Mr.’s Geithner and Daschle) can’t seem to do themselves.
The War on (some) Drugs and it’s ruination of lives, destruction of property, wounding and killing of both officers and innocents, and its wedge-causing division between state and federal governments has proven itself to be both economically ruinous and socially destructive.4 It’s only a matter of time before this division leads to a real split and some state, region, or sizable group of people decides to separate themselves from the federal government altogether.
Despite this obvious conclusion to the game of “fed rules,” those in Washington seem unable to fathom the idea of just ending their destructive war, at least on marijuana.
It’s time to Free the Boys and stop this persecution of those who grow, sell, and use a plant that’s hurt no one except those who stood between it and police bent on seizure.
1 – Matier & Ross: Feds go after wildly successful medical pot sellers by Philip Matier and Andrew Ross, SFGate, November 5, 2007
IRAs Seized as Part of Marijuana Investigation News Release October 31, 2007, Justice.gov
2 – FreeTheBoys on Twitter
4 – Drug War Victims, DrugWarRant.com