1 week after raid, medical marijuana collective reopens

December 21, 2011 7:00:17 PM PST
One week after state agents raided Newark's only medical marijuana collective, the business has reopened. That, despite an ongoing criminal investigation into its activities.

While police were well aware of the reopening, they did not confront the situation Wednesday.

Justin Hammer is defying the city of Newark and law enforcement agents. At 11 a.m. Wednesday morning he reopened the doors to the Happy Wellness Center in a city that has banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

"There's no way that me, the way I am, could just sit back and not open," said the center's CEO. "If I felt we were doing anything wrong, anything illegal, I wouldn't be here."

The move follows a raid on the collective one week ago and a search warrant served on Hammer's rented Danville home. Agents seized evidence at both locations they say could be used in a criminal prosecution.

The people who are happy to see the center reopen are wondering how long police will keep their distance.

"I expected them by already and I'm sure they've rolled by and noticed," said medical marijuana patient Nick Apuzzo. "They probably have something planned."

Commander Bob Douglas from Newark Police declined an on-camera interview, but said, "We view this business as illegal and support task force efforts to shut it down."

Both police and the California Department of Justice told ABC7, this is an "active and ongoing criminal investigation."

Employees say they were warned not to return to work.

"They told us we would be arrested on conspiracy to traffic marijuana," said employee Michael Goularte.

People running the collective say they just want to help sick patients. State agents have indicated they believe the collective is operating as a for-profit business, an accusation Hammer denies.

"I have not made a dime, OK, nothing, Negative money," said Hammer. "So that being said, no. No profit."

The Happy Wellness Center operated for 105 days before the raid and originally opened before the city ban on such operations. An attorney for the collective says only a court order will change their position.

"If a judge says that we should be closed, we will close, but that's the legal way it should be done, not by someone with a badge and a gun coming in and saying you better close or we're going to arrest everybody," said attorney Scot Candell.

The criminal case is under review, but the city did file a civil case to try to close this operation down for good. That court date, before a judge, is scheduled for Jan. 12.


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