The Mother Teresas Refused to Cop a Plea: The Joe Grumbine Trial Covered by Cynthia Johnson

posted Jan 28, 2013, 1:19 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 13, 2013, 9:32 PM ]
You should all be put down like animals.
~ Los Angeles Police Detective Salb

December 17, 2009, 10:30 AM.

It was almost Christmas, but the clatter outside was definitely not Santa’s reindeer. It was helicopters, SWAT teams, and police dogs. A total of one-hundred-and-twenty armed police officers swarmed seventeen locations across three Southern California counties in a highly-coordinated raid on legally sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as the homes and businesses of everybody connected with them.

According to The Orange County Register, Long Beach police officials, with the help of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, served “a series of warrants” at locations in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties. Fifteen people were arrested.

At Unit D, a medical marijuana dispensary in Orange County’s Garden Grove, co-owner Joe Grumbine had just finished making a pot of coffee. When he opened the front door he found himself staring down the barrel of a 9-millimeter handgun. “I saw the round that would have taken my life. The officer had his finger on the trigger. If I’d sneezed…. I thought, Wow, that could be the last thing I see.”

There were an estimated ten police vehicles, including SUVs, in the Unit D parking lot.  Joe was kept handcuffed in one room, with two female employees handcuffed in another, while sixteen police officers ransacked the place. He was then arrested at the site along with both employees.

At the same time, in Perris, a small city in Riverside County, Joe’s wife Liz was out in the yard of the family home as more than twenty police officers broke through the gate with guns drawn. Their nineteen-year-old daughter Candace was in her bedroom, playing guitar.

Both Liz and Candace Grumbine were handcuffed for hours while drug-sniffing dogs and police agents tore their property apart. Two volunteers at work in the family nursery, Willow Creek Springs, were detained for over six hours.

A Detective Salb of the Los Angeles Impact Division told Liz, “You should all be put down like animals.”

After trashing the place, the police left human feces in all three toilets of the Grumbine home. In the end, all they got was Joe’s personal meds and a scale Liz used to weigh bee’s wax.

At the Unit D dispensary, they wrote a message on the wall:  Merry Xmas.

In Long Beach that morning, Unit D co-owner Joe Byron fared no better. He was at the “collective grow” on Long Beach Boulevard when he was arrested. Also raided were Byron’s home, real estate business, and restaurant, Egg Heaven. Byron’s and Grumbine’s new Long Beach dispensary “2200,” opened a couple of months earlier at the request of patients who wanted a collective closer to them, was also included in the raids, along with two other buildings leased for future grows.

The third dispensary raid occurred at 4th and Elm Natural Health in Long Beach. The rest of the Orange County raids took place at the homes of employees and volunteers, and “everywhere they raided,” said Grumbine, “everybody looked at guns.”

In a December 9, 2010 article by Nick Schou in OC Weekly, Katherine Hamel, one of those arrested in the 2009 raids, “blasted city officials for terrorizing legitimate cannabis patients.” According to her account, “twenty uniformed Long Beach officers busted down our doors, pointed guns at my head and my friend’s head, handcuffed us, and took us to jail.”

Long Beach Police Commander Laura Farinella claimed “the enforcement” was a result of complaints from city residents about illegal marijuana sales in their neighborhoods. Ironically, co-owner Joe Grumbine had been found in full compliance with California law by a judge in a prior case five weeks before the raids.

Compassionate Use

A year earlier, motivated by the shared tragedy of seeing a close friend suffer and die of brain cancer, Grumbine, an organic gardener, and Byron, a local businessman, decided to open a medical marijuana dispensary. They’d seen cannabis tincture ease their friend’s pain in a way that morphine could not, and wanted to help others who were suffering.

In December 2008 they opened Unit D (officially called Unit D/Tangent Retail) in Garden Grove. The collective was created in accordance with existing California law, based on the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

On January 1, 2004, California Senate Bill 420 went into effect, establishing statewide guidelines for the enforcement of the Compassionate Use Act. “Those guidelines are not specific on how to operate a collective,” said Joe. “They have recommendations, implications and innuendo, but no clear definition.”

The Compassionate Use Act, added to the California Health and Safety Code in 1996, was intended to “ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes… and that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.” [Italics mine.] It also encourages federal and state governments “to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”

In the spirit of compassionate use, Byron and Grumbine gave medicine to people who couldn’t afford it. They spent a great deal of time with patients, providing food, clothing, wheelchairs, jobs and job placement outside of their collective to those who needed it. They built wheelchair ramps and gave bus passes to people who couldn’t afford to drive.

In addition to the collective, in early 2009 Joe Grumbine and a small group of medical marijuana advocates founded The Human Solution, a non-profit grassroots organization offering free seminars on the anti-aging and health benefits of marijuana, along with other services, to patients, caregivers, and the local community. They created, and wear, green Solidarity Ribbons championing patient rights and supporting medical marijuana defendants in court.

Perfect Storm

On November 2, 2009, just five weeks prior to the December 2009 raid, Grumbine was exonerated of all charges in a similar arrest. He described that event on the internet forum, InSession.

“At the time of my arrest, we still didn’t have a big safe. So one of the managers or owners would literally package up the contents of the collective and we would take it to one of our homes. It happened to be my night. It was a perfect storm. We had made some significant purchases that day and I had much more medicine than we normally carry. Then, literally, a mile and a half from my house, the Riverside County Sheriff pulled me over and lit me up for having a trailer ball on my bumper. No moving violation. I haven’t had a moving violation in twenty years.” Other than the trailer ball, he was in compliance with the law.

When asked if he thought he’d been targeted, Joe said, “No. It was just his lucky day. He was parked there and I happened to drive by.” He added that there was only one police officer involved, noting with bitter wisdom that there’s never a “raid of one.”

Seventeen trips to court and four prosecutors later, on November 2, 2009, Grumbine was exonerated. The judge stated that, based on proof of patients, patient outreach programs and a huge witness list, “the court finds that Mr. Grumbine was acting in accordance with California law.” But it was a costly arrest. To this day, Joe has not recovered financially. And, of course, the worst wasn’t over.

According to online publication’s The Daily Dose, after Grumbine was exonerated of all charges, Long Beach Police Detective Valenzuela, apparently unwilling to let the judge’s findings stand, consoled the Riverside County District Attorney, saying “Don’t worry. We’ve got him good.”

Sure enough, five weeks later Grumbine’s home and business were raided.

Taking a Stand

Of the fifteen people rounded up in the raid, felony charges were brought against only two – Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron.

Having established their dispensaries in full compliance with state law, as found by the court just five weeks earlier, Byron and Grumbine refused to “confess to crimes they did not commit,” insisting instead on their right to trial by jury. A jury trial is a rare occurrence in Long Beach and the many other jurisdictions where dispensary owners find themselves under intense pressure to take plea deals. The outcome may have repercussions for every dispensary in California, and perhaps the nation.

Grumbine understands that theirs may be seen as a test case. What’s being tested is the right of law enforcement to attempt to erode medical marijuana protections by charging collective owners with sales, using Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley’s interpretation of the law to mean any sale is illegal. “If they win enough cases, it undermines the protection collectives have…. This is the precedent they are trying to set. By claiming all sales are illegal, then charging people with sales, they are saying there can be no legal dispensary. If they win, everybody goes down.”

They Chose the Wrong Guys

I already assumed
That we’re in the felony room
But I ain’t a judge, you don’t have to be nice to me.
Bob Dylan ~ “She’s Your Lover Now

Nearly a year later, in December 2010, a Bail Reduction Hearing for the two Joes was conducted in Long Beach Superior Court. The courtroom, as well as the hallway outside, was filled with people – some in wheelchairs, some with walkers or on crutches – all wearing The Human Solution’s green Solidarity Ribbon with a red cross in the middle. They had come to support these men whose actions had made such a difference in their lives.

In a December 10, 2010 article in OC Weekly, Nick Schou quotes attorney Chris Glew, who at the time was representing both Joes, as saying, “If they could pick anybody in Long Beach to prosecute, they chose the wrong guys. These guys are representative of the true intention of this whole industry and what it should be. That’s who they are…They are the Mother Teresas of medical marijuana.”

At the hearing, the judge set bail for the two Joes at half a million dollars – two hundred thousand for Grumbine, three hundred thousand for Byron –  more than Los Angeles County charges for rapists, kidnappers and child molesters. And without the help of several “angels” who put their retirement money and life savings on the line to make his bail, Joe Grumbine would still be sitting in the slammer. Add to that his massive legal bills, and regardless of the outcome, he will spend many years paying for these raids.

Grumbine remains very moved and encouraged by the show of support at his bail hearing, as this photo taken by attests.

Grumbine told Cheri Sicard of The Daily Dose, that “for the two seconds I was able to scan the courtroom, I saw it filled with caring faces. I knew that this was a sacrifice for everyone, to take time out of their lives to travel, pay for parking and gas, and to be treated poorly by the court. I knew that whatever happened to me in there was going to be witnessed by everyone. I will remember that moment all my life. I am almost brought to tears every time I think about it. Those people gave me strength to endure the rest of my stay in custody.

“Court support is one of the most powerful things an individual can do with the least amount of effort,” he went on. “Some folks say that it makes no difference, that judges are above reproach and can’t be touched by such a statement, but I say this: there are few cases where people act the same when they are being watched and scrutinized as they do when they are all alone with nobody watching.”

How You Can Help

If you’re in the Southern California area, and especially if you’re a medical marijuana patient, put your boots on the ground. Bear witness. Stand in solidarity. Wear the green ribbon. By raising public awareness, we not only hold our justice system accountable, we educate the jury pool. “Jurors have an obligation to do the right thing,” said Joe Grumbine. “They cannot be punished for that.”

After all these years of raids and prosecutions and politics and wasted tax dollars and lawyerly wrangling, it all boils down to one simple thing: Nobody should go to jail for using or providing, as medicine, a plant that is safer and more beneficial than aspirin.

On Thursday, June 9, 2011, trial proceedings begin for Grumbine and Byron at Long Beach Superior Court. Thus begins another round of lawyerly wrangling over whether the two Joes will be allowed to tell the jury they were providing medical marijuana in compliance with California law. A date for jury selection will be set. The Human Solution plans a rally on the day jury selection begins. Court attendance is needed and requested.

By our actions today we help set the legal precedents for tomorrow.

Please Attend:
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Trial Proceedings Begin
9:00 am to 12:00 pm
Long Beach Courthouse
415 West Ocean Boulevard
Long Beach, California 90802

In addition to court attendance, supporters are needed to help plan and coordinate a courthouse rally. Please call 951-436-6312 for information.

Contributions to the defense fund of Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron can be made by clicking the Donate button on The Human Solution webpage.

Or by sending checks to:
26521 Hammack Avenue
Perris, California 92570


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”


Originally published June 4, 2011 at