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United States v. James Holland (2005-present, Kern County, CA)

posted Jan 28, 2013, 3:01 AM by The Editor   [ updated Jan 31, 2013, 3:19 AM ]
James Holland and two associates were arrested in a September 8, 2005 raid on the Free and Easy cannabis dispensary of Bakersfield, CA. Kern County sheriffs summoned the DEA after being called to investigate a robbery at the facility. Police found plants growing at Holland's home plus 20 pounds of marijuana, and firearms. Holland, who had prior drug convictions, was sentenced to 9 years in prison and five years of supervised release in February 2007.
Dispensary Owner James Holland Gets Federal Sentence
by Vanessa Nelson
Tuesday, 13 February 2007

FRESNO, CA -- Former medical marijuana dispensary owner James Dale Holland was handed down a nine-year prison sentence and five years of probation in federal court yesterday.

Holland, who ran the Free and Easy Cooperative in Bakersfield, was being prosecuted for possession of stolen firearms in addition to drug charges from the raid of his medical marijuana dispensary. This complication, added to a record of prior drug convictions, contributed to his reluctance to go to trial and prompted his acceptance of a plea deal last month.

Holland's change of plea signalled the official resolution of a legal case that has gone on for a year and a half. The raid on the Free and Easy Collective took place in September 2005, the result of cooperation between several local and federal law enforcement agencies. The investigation, which spanned six months, involved the Bakersfield Police Department, the Kern County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

This collaborative action marked Bakersfield's first bust of a medical marijuana dispensary since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Raich v. Gonzales. The ruling, which was made on June 6th, 2005, held that the federal government has the authority to prosecute matters that are legal under state law.

Medical marijuana is precisely one of those contentious matters -- although California voters passed it into law in 1996, medical marijuana is not recognized in federal law and is considered illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

Many dispensary operators like Holland believe that distributing marijuana to Californians with a doctor's approval is not only legal, but necessary. The medicine is vital for many patients, some of whom are so severely ill that they are unable to perform the labor-intensive task of growing their own plants.

For medical marijuana users, patient cooperatives can be a life-line.

To federal authorities, however, these operations are still considered criminal enterprises.

And the Free and Easy Collective was certainly no exception.

The search of Holland's home and dispensary yielded over 200 marijuana plants and more than 20 pounds of processed marijuana, according to local newspaper reports, as well as three firearms alleged by investigators to be stolen.

Holland, who attempted to flee the scene of the raid, was also accused of throwing a loaded handgun out of his car window during the pursuit by law enforcement officers.

It was all part of the wild ride that led him, finally, to federal court for yesterday's sentencing.

Tall and wide, with massive muscularity bulging beneath his red prison-issue jumpsuit, Holland cut an impressive figure at the defendant's stand. He might have appeared slightly menacing were it not for his unimposing demeanor and his shy smile.

No doubt the inmate's girth looked troublesome to the U.S. Marshals who guarded Holland in court. They firmly and without hesitation denied his attorney's request to allow him to appear unshackled for the proceedings. Under a rule adopted by the Eastern District of California last year, inmates are to remain fully shackled in court with the exception of certain types of appearances. Sentencing hearings are not one of these explicitly stated exceptions.

As such, Holland stood shackled beside defense attorney Diana Weiss to receive his sentence, ankle and hand restraints securely cuffed to a waist chain. At 45 years old, the thick dark hair on his head and his handlebar mustache showed only the faintest tinges of gray. It soon became clear, however, that Holland's tresses would likely have more salt than pepper by the time he got out of prison.

The final chance for Holland to affect his fate came when he was asked if he would like to address the court. His comments, though simple in nature and remarkably brief, were filled with emotion. "I would like to say that I am sorry for my actions, and I will use the time in prison to become a better person," Holland said slowly and carefully, his voice quivering.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Servatius then explained the details of the plea agreement, which recommended a sentence equivalent to nine years in prison.

"108 months is a reasonable sentence," Judge Anthony Ishii nodded in agreement from his bench, "and I will rule accordingly."

But nine years of prison time is not the end of the ordeal for Holland. His sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release as well as a requirement to register as a drug offender in any jurisdiction in which he resides. He was also ordered to pay a special assessment of $200 in court fees, a paltry amount in comparison to the $50,000 in asset forfeiture funds that he handed over to the U.S. Attorney just yesterday.

All in all, it was ultimately a good deal in the eyes of defense attorney Diana Weiss, who made no character judgment on Holland's prior criminal record or his recent firearms charges.

A trial in federal court would not have allowed Holland to present a medical defense to the jury, who would have been more likely to convict in the absence of such information. And, if convicted, Holland would have found himself subject to decades of imprisonment due to the various charges against him and the impact of his prior criminal history.

"He was just born on the wrong side of the tracks and grew up on the wrong side of the tracks," Weiss described Holland insightfully outside the courtroom. "That's what I always say about him."

Holland may not, however, receive the same discerning sympathy from the activist community as a whole.

For some medical marijuana supporters, it will be difficult to look beyond the negative image created by certain details in Holland's case. Others, however, will focus on the fundamental fact that he provided medicine to patients and took on great personal risk in that endeavor.

Image Whatever the response from the activist community, Holland's goals remain clear. Having pledged in court to use his prison time as an opportunity for learning and personal improvement, he will now struggle to find the means to his aspirations. And he must do so while also coping with the loneliness and desolation that so often accompany prolonged involuntary confinement. That will, from every angle, be a colossal challenge indeed.

Originally published at

Department of Justice News Release
September 8, 2005

BAKERSFIELD, CA – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Bakersfield Resident Office, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Bakersfield Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announce the service of federal search warrants earlier this morning at the residence of James HOLLAND as well as HOLLAND’s marijuana dispensary known as the “Free and Easy Compassionate Care” in Kern County, CA. HOLLAND, a convicted felon, and his two associates, Michael KILPATRICK and Thomas WRIGHT, were armed with handguns when encountered by officers near the marijuana dispensary. The three were arrested for weapons and narcotics violations.

“This case clearly shows how common criminals attempt to hide behind state marijuana laws while they peddle illegal drugs in our neighborhoods,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gordon Taylor. Taylor added, “These drug dealers were all armed with loaded handguns which created a dangerous situation for not only law enforcement officers, but neighbors and business owners alike.”

On September 8, 2005, at approximately 10:00 a.m., agents served a federal search warrant at Free and Easy Compassionate Care in the 1900 block of North Chester Avenue. Agents arrested HOLLAND, 43, of Bakersfield, near the business, not before he threw a loaded handgun out of his vehicle. Two of HOLLAND’s associates, Michael KILPATRICK, 44, and Thomas Ray WRIGHT, 34, both of Bakersfield, were armed with loaded handguns at the time of their arrests near the dispensary.

The business, which operates as a marijuana distribution center, was owned and operated by HOLLAND. A federal authorized search warrant was also served at HOLLAND’s residence located in the 9000 Block of Seven Standard Rd., Kern County, CA.

As a result of the searches, agents seized 4 loaded handguns and approximately 200 pounds of processed marijuana. HOLLAND was arrested for federal firearms and drug violations. KILPATRICK and WRIGHT were arrested for State of California weapons violations. All three were booked into custody at the Kern County Jail.

This case is the product of a six-month investigation between the DEA Bakersfield Resident Office, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Bakersfield Police Department, ATF and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fresno, CA.

Any questions concerning this news release should be directed to Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gordon Taylor at (916) 416-7699 or DEA Bakersfield Resident Agent in Charge Stephen Peterson at (661) 396-3799.