Did a Russian River pot grower overstep?


Sitting in a Sonoma County courtroom this morning waiting for the judge to appear, it struck me that the criminal case involving three West County pot growers is among the most high profile here on the North Coast to highlight the issue of pot cultivation for medical marijuana dispensaries.

At the center of the matter is Joseph Erich Pearson, 34, who co-founded the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center on Mission Street and is one year into a two-year appointment on the San Francisco District Attorney’s Medicinal Marijuana Advisory Board.

Pearson owns the property in the hills above the Russian River where an apparent electrical malfunction from his pot operation set fire to a barn and led Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies to his door.

Pearson grew the product for his San Francisco dispensary. Sheriff’s detectives allege Pearson’s operation looked like a for-profit endeavor. Was he also trying to make a profit on the side, a business effort not supported by medical marijuana laws?

Prosecutors weren’t ready to charge Pearson or co-defendants Alexander Pearson, 33, and Timothy Crites, 32. A judge postponed their arraignment until July 19.

Only Pearson and his pals know the truth at this point, so let’s not speculate on their activities.

But what’s your experience — is it possible to grow such a valuable crop and NOT make a little profit on the side? Can humans resist? What are the telltale signs that dispensary managers or providers are involved in, ahem, extra-curricular activities?

For growers, how hard is it to follow state regulations that guide those who provide product to dispensaries?

  • Eugene Denson

    The people who find it hard to follow state regulations are the police. They arrest many a person on marijuana charges which are in the end dismissed. In the meanwhile that person’s life is turned upside down, and in some cases, destroyed. I have seen people lose their homes in such cases. I think you might address your question to the authorities in regard to their own behavior before taxing growers with weak wills where temptation is found.

    As for making a profit on medical marijuana, that is clearly prohibited in the law. As the saying goes “you may make a living, but not a profit.” In the 7 years since the law explicitly authorized collectives, there has not been one appellate case that discusses what a “profit” would be in the medical marijuana setting – suggesting that it is never an important issue in the lower court cases. I have defended well over 100 people on marijuana charges and have yet to have one actually charged with making a profit.

    it is doubtful that it will be an issue in this case either, because it opens an issue on which both the defense and the prosecution will be the first in the state to litigate – which means the trial will be long and involved and the outcome difficult to predict. Lawyers don’t like such prospects, and prefer to try the cases on safer grounds. Look for charges like “possession for sale” rather than “making a profit.”

  • This is a shameful piece aimed at creating a ht-button topic where there need not be one. For the author (who remains nameless) to attempt to SPECULATE so deeply about the ethics in the cannabis industry and with this story, and then have the nerve to state, “Only Pearson and his pals know the truth at this point, so let’s not speculate on their activities,” just shows the monkeys are running the zoo at the PD blogs and there is little or no editorial oversight.

    To basically accuse an entire industry of fraud by stating, “is it possible to grow such a valuable crop and NOT make a little profit on the side? Can humans resist? What are the telltale signs that dispensary managers or providers are involved in, ahem, extra-curricular activities?” just shows that this blog is nothing more than a hit piece aimed at creating controversy and doubt. Whatever nameless coward wrote this should be fired immediately.

    Why is the story line about why Sonoma County Sheriffs paraded a Sonoma County property owner in front of the court based on wild accusations and interpretations that are pure SPECULATION. Why is the Press Democrat, and particularly a blog dedicated to cannabis issues, attempting to gain some sensationalist points by making underlying accusations in this hyperbolic BS piece? Why is there not a call for an inquiry into the officers that have attempted to slander the medical community and this provider in an effort to continue their failed drug war and their job security? Why? Because this entire piece lacks ethics, responsibility, and morals. It is a shame because normally the Press Democrat does a much better job on things. This is amateur stuff that reads like a high school kids Facebook posting.

    • Marijuana.Empire

      Mickey Martin, you bring up an excellent point that the question runs both ways: what exactly led Sonoma County sheriff’s detectives to think Pearson’s farm was host to for-profit activities? Sheriff’s officials wouldn’t share any details about that, and the case obviously wasn’t solid enough yet to charge Pearson and the two other men with anything in court. The whole thing could be dropped before prosecutors are scheduled to file charges in July.

      On your other points, perhaps a better question would be, is it fair for the law to force marijuana production to be nonprofit, something that, for example, the law doesn’t require of wine makers?

      By the way, my name and contact info are listed in the “about this blog” blurb to the right of each blog post. Keep the input coming, and please keep it civil.

  • After reviewing the ongoing cannabis coverage from the Press Democrat and reviewing writing styles, it would seem this was most likely written by Julie Johnson. If I am right, she owes us all an apology. We are waiting. And then the real question comes of why she (or whoever) did not have the courage to take responsibility for the piece. That truly lacks journalistic integrity. If you are going to smear someone in public, how about taking responsibility for it.

    • Marijuana.Empire

      Again, Mickey Martin, all my info is to the right. No hiding here, however I get your point that it’s a little easy to miss.

  • R Smith

    How does one who grows a few pounds for their own use & to recoup growing costs (there are some substantial costs involved) find out the current fair price? Are they limited to sell to clubs? Can you shop around?

  • A cancer & Aids patient

    I have known Joseph Erich Pearson for close to a decade now. I originally met Joseph at a San Francisco hospice I resided at, he wanted to know if I wanted any medical marijuana, I wasn’t very interested as I thought only hippies got into it. I started chemo approx. 2 weeks later , it was rough, I vomited all the time, just the smell of food had me running to the bathroom. After 10 days of not eating and only getting IV fluids the doctors decided I need a feeding tube, I explained this to Joseph and he once again offered his medical marajuana saying it would help with the nausea so I said fine I’ll give it a go as I wasn’t ready to have a tube coming out of my stomach. To my surprise I could go to the dinning room and finally eat a very small plate of food. They then cancelled the feeding tube surgery, that was a big relief! My chemo schedule was every other day for a year. So Joseph really helped me that time! Unfortunately I suffered two more cancers and ended up being the longest person to live at this hospice, a decade! Joseph was always there for me, and he is a very giving and compassionate person! I’d hate to think how much the value of the marajuana would be that he has provided over the years.
    I’m very grateful to Joseph and his organization for there support.
    I think this situation is very unfortunate that he finds himself in! One question for the state and local governments if your allowing medical marajuana dispensaries were do you think the marajuana is coming from?
    I know for a fact that all of these dispensaries are not only paying sales taxes, there employees are now paying income taxes. This industry has helped our crippled and limping governments coffers. So hopefully they can work on laws for cultivators to work by!
    Thank-you for hearing my comments.

    • Marijuana.Empire

      Wow, amazing that marijuana helped you avoid being subjected to a feeding tube, A cancer & Aids patient. Thanks for sharing your experience. Be well and please continue giving your input to these discussions.

  • Willie Lowman

    $200 dollars an ounce and up…. That looks mighty profitable to me. Lets see, he owned (coowned) his own store. so that makes it grow-low-sell-high. OK… I think the rest of the story should come out in court. What were his personal income taxes like? What kind of taxes did his business pay? What were their real expenses? How many employess did they have and how much were those folks paid? Oh, and what was the role of the patients who bought the stuff or was that their entire role?

  • Humbert

    I think it is presumptuous and unfair to assume that medical marijuana providers are operating for profit. Why do we assume that they are doing something illegal? Isn’t it just as possible that they are doing something to help people? The burden of proof should not lay on the accused!

    We are so quick to assume that medical marijuana is in the wrong and so quick to assume that law enforcement is always right. There is not enough information to assume that anyone is guilty here.

  • Mr. Mr

    Every wonder why medical marijuana clubs up here in the North Bay NEVER buy pot from local farmers? Well, if you didn’t know, this is the reason why. Why would the pot club buy your pound for, say a mere $2,500 when they are growing their own pot (on a very large scale) for about $500 a pound. Even more insane, is that the same club and owners are claiming they are NON-PROFIT. So, let us say for argument sake that they did buy a pound of pot for $2,500. Resale of this pound, at $55 an eighth (3.5g) is approximately $7,000. So, 7,000 – 2,500 leaves a HUGE PROFIT MARGIN that you cannot claim is overhead. These pot club owners are RICH and getting RICHER, and thereby able to manipulate city licenses and officials (look at Oakland for crying out loud).

    So now me tell you that every member needs a license, so the club can take that license and GROW MORE POT IN YOUR NAME. Okay, so this is being a member…where is my cost break or my member benefit? Nope, we still going to sell it to you at street pricing. These pot clubs have lost all rights when they make this kind of money and don’t give any back to the community (members or local farmers). I hope this jerk is thrown in jail for a very long time as he was trying to pull a fast one and got caught. I mean, this guy was probably pulling down $500,000 a month…oh, but its not profit……

    The IRS and the city officials need to go look up what it means to operate as a NON-PROFIT and then go back to each of these clubs and investigate. Once this is done you might actually get a hold on the “medical” marijuana industry that is now raping its own constituents. Take Organicann for instance, did anyone notice they tried to slip the City of Oakland 1Million dollars to transfer a use-permit? Use-permits are not transferrable and what they were trying to do was circumvent the system of issuing use permits (which are highly desired) because they had money, because we’ve made them rich and it is open season on taking advantage of your so called members. Screw these clubs and club owners. The system to get a use permit and run your own legit business is corrupt and full of city officials wanting a kick back. Hell, half of our city officials here in Sonoma and Santa Rosa have to recuse themselves from pot ordinance votes because they (or their spouses) are already involved in a pot growing operation. The rich get richer and the poor get taken advantage of. NO MORE MEDICAL POT CLUBS THAT CAN HIDE BEHIND NON=PROFIT STATUS AND PULL OFF STUNTS LIKE THIS JACKHOLE IN RUSSIAN RIVER!

  • Mike M

    As I read the comments I feel a sense of frustration. I am a medicinal cannabis user and have been for many years. It is so frustrating and sad that people just judge and throw out opinions without doing research. Especially about cannabis, now everyone is an expert? Please, here is the sad truth not just any grower can sell quality medicine. Is it tested? By Whom? Or do they just slap a label and call it medicine?

    Any negative comments about SPARC are just silly. I am and have been a patient since the opening in September 2010. I drive 30 miles to SPARC, why when there is a dispensary two blocks from my house? Because, I am informed I know what I buy. I know quality and I like the fact that my medicine has been tested and what I get is absolute quality. Prices are actually very competitive and again the quality is unsurpassed. Sorry North Bay Growers or grow houses in some Sunset District who are the criminals. I want my medicine grown by professionals, not street thugs looking for a fast buck.

    I think the cops overstepped their boundaries and now are covering up by saying it looked like a “for profit” grow. Come on, wake up people.
    Again, where are they supposed to grow medicinal cannabis?

  • Mike M

    Mr. Mr.,

    The Ad hominem you spout sounds like the rant of a jealous grower.

  • Mr. Mr. seems to have zero experience in understanding business overhead and expenses. Seems like a scorned individual who either a.) could not sell his cannabis at a collective because it was not desirable…or….b.) is one of the jackhole officers who assumed they understood economics and compensation standards by judging the size of a person’s television and no have an angry DA’s office up their arse…..

    Julie….thanks for the response. It would seem you name would go in the “by” line, but that is just me. I never read ad filled sidebars. I still think the tone of the piece is somewhat snarky. Will your next one question why officers are allowed to arrest people with no evidence, as I am sure they did not look over the books before booking them….They made rabid assumptions and now Mr. Pearson and the rest of the community are subjected to folks like Mr. Mr. there accusing everyone of making millions a month or whatever. I mean the guy’s barn just burned down and you want to drag him into jail to boot. That is just rude and the Sheriff’s better have had some damn good evidence….

  • But they did not or they would have surely marched it out on the evening news for the world to see….Busch league….

  • Neko3

    I know Erich, and I know for a fact that this was completely not for profit. In terms of the question if a dispensary owner can give back, I say YES! Erich and his dispensary is continually providing both financial and medicinal support to those in need. Particularly those with cancer, HIV or AIDS, and even mothers in search of support for their families living in shelters.

    Sometimes we forget that people can actually do something nice for those in need before money.

  • A cancer & Aids patient

    Thank you Neko3 for your comments, glad there is someone who knows Erich personally! I forgot to mention that Erich supplied all my decade of medical marijuana for free along with numerous other patients.
    As far as Mr.Mr. comments, please don’t comment on someones character in a horrible way when you don’t even know them.
    SPARC for your information does give back to the community by giving free acupuncture, harm reduction classes, women’s groups and services, and even a Diaper Drive for the local low income women with babies, in fact the list of there services take note Mr.Mr. they provide something nearly daily: http://sparcsf.org/services-and-events-calendar.
    Shame that people have to be all in the Kool Aide and don’t know the flavor!
    Erich still to this day provides free medical marijuana to that hospice’s patients.
    So please can anyone out there tell me of any other dispensary providing this amount of services and giving back in a generous way? I think not.
    Thanks for hearing my comments and lets get facts right here.

  • Mr. Gibson

    I too have partied with Erich.
    The way he lives life… Lavishly
    The way he runs business… Cut Throat

    I don’t know how his businesses are set up. However, he has been in the pot game for a long time now and he, for some reason, has big bucks. His cannabis growing is what fueled SPARC to open and has supported his ritzy, upper class living.

    Good luck to Erich and good luck to the detectives looking to bust him…

  • Adam D.

    I worked at SPARC for a couple of months and I can tell you it IS all about money.
    After witnessing am alarming number of people pass out at their vaporizers, I suggested CPR certification for staff. I was shot down. Here’s the observation: SPARC doesn’t really care about patients.

    If they had paid attention to their electrical system like they do their profits, the fire would have never been “sparked”.

  • Thank you so much for this arcetli, it saved me time!

  • Edward Kent

    It’s all about the MONEY don’t kid yourself. Look at the prices for cannabis product’s in the local dispensaries. I’m on disability and can’t afford to buy anything there I still use the “Black market “…and will continue even when they legalize it and tax the hell out of it. Money ,money. money !!