Ventura medical pot delivery business busted, CEO arrested as Prop 64 passes

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Days before California voters legalized marijuana, one of the Ventura County’s largest medical marijuana providers was raided. Its CEO, Chelsea Sutula, was arrested and now awaits trial. Sutula had been running the Sespe Creek Collective, a medial marijuana delivery service that’s been operating for six years.

According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Sutula was operating outside the scope of the California Compassionate Use Act. She was arrested and arraigned for perjury and possession for sale, among other violations. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for January 23rd.

“It’s still anyone’s guess what evidence they have to support these charges,” said Sutula.

A medicine journal designed for patients to better track which medicines work for them. (Chelsea Sutula) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

According to Jay Leiderman, a lawyer in Ventura who represents medical marijuana growers and sellers, the timing was far too coincidental. Although the Sheriff’s department says the raid had nothing to do with the election or Proposition 64, Leiderman thinks the department wanted to crack down and make a statement before pot became legalized.

“Right now, police don’t differentiate between marijuana and heroin,” said Leiderman. Come January 2018, when the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act go into effect, Leiderman says things will change.

“I think it will become more of a compliance issue than a drug issue,” he said. “It’s inconceivable to me that the District Attorney would dig hard on a misdemeanor, where the prospects of winning aren’t fantastic.”

As the industry chair of the Ventura County Cannabis Alliance, Sutula said she’ll continue to talk with citizens, local elected officials and law enforcement as municipalities discuss what their own marijuana regulations will look like, both medical and recreational.

This month, Ojai became the first city in the county to properly license the delivery and pickup of medical marijuana. In Port Hueneme, city council decided to form an ad hoc committee to look at how to proceed now that Prop 64 has passed. On December 6, the County Executive Office plans to present the Ventura County Board of Supervisors with a report on how new recreational marijuana laws affect Ventura County and a draft proposal for regulating medical marijuana in unincorporated areas.

Chelsea Sutula speaking about cannabis at the Holistic Health and Wellness Fair in Ventura. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

You can listen to KCRW’s interview with Sutula and Leiderman here: