Photo Gallery: Aaron Sandusky's legal battle
Special section: Medical Marijuana
LOS ANGELES - A former medical marijuana dispensary owner on Monday was sentenced to 10 years in prison for operating three facilities in the Inland Empire.
Aaron Sandusky, one of only a handful of defendants to fight U.S. prosecutors, was convicted in October on federal charges of distributing marijuana.
Sandusky faced as much as life in prison, but U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson gave him the minimum sentence possible under federal guidelines.
"In this case, as the defendant was warned, the court's hands are tied," Anderson said. "Whether you agree with the defendant's position or not."
Sandusky was charged with conspiring to manufacture and possess marijuana with intent to distribute it, conspiring to operate a drug-involved premises and and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it.
His case is one of four in the United States where federal prosecutors filed charges against individuals associated with medical marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal. These cases have garnered national attention, in part, because marijuana advocates have criticized the federal government for disregarding state laws allowing the possession and sale of marijuana for medicinal use.
Sandusky, 42, of Rancho Cucamonga, previously worked in the mortgage industry before opening dispensaries in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley.
In his sentencing memo, Anderson noted that Sandusky was running an illegal marijuana operation under cover of California's medical marijuana laws.
Sandusky "used G3 as a means to replace the vast income he lost from the collapse of his real estate business," Anderson wrote. "Defendant built a veneer of legitimacy around his criminal enterprise using his customers' good-faith search for pain relief.
"There is absolutely no altruistic component to defendant's continued and sustained criminality."
California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, allowing medical marijuana in the state, while state Senate Bill 420, which details the amount of marijuana a person can possess for medical purposes, prevents cities and counties from banning marijuana dispensaries.
But federal law says marijuana - medical or otherwise - is illegal.
"He gave him the mandatory minimum of 10," Sandusky's attorney Roger Diamond said. "I tried to get the judge to go below the minimum by arguing the sentence would be unconstitutional. That's all."
Only three similar cases have been tried in recent years - Charles C. Lynch of Arroyo Grande, a former Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary owner, Michigan father and son Gerald and Jeremy Duval, and Christopher Williams of Montana.
Lynch, a former Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary owner, faced up to 20 years for selling more than $2.1 million in marijuana during a year's time. He was sentenced to a reduced term of a year and a day in prison in June 2009.
The Duvals were convicted of growing marijuana in greenhouses, and while they claimed it was for medicinal purposes, the judge at sentencing found their operation suggested otherwise.
In Montana, where medical marijuana is also legal, federal prosecutors successfully charged Christopher Williams, who was convicted in September of eight counts of conspiring to grow and distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense.
Williams has settled with prosecutors in his criminal proceedings. Six of the charges will be dismissed in exchange for withdrawing his pending motions for acquittal and a new trial. He will face five years to life in prison.
Shouts and sobs in court
Sandusky's hands and feet were shackled Monday in the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. He was clad in a white prison suit and green jacket.
"I want to apologize to those with me and their families who have been victimized by the federal government who has not recognized the voters of this state," Sandusky said in court.
"I want to apologize to the families who are suffering and who have to go through this."
The sentencing was greeted with sobs from attendees.
"There are no winners here. Not the state, not the federal government, not the patients who need medical marijuana," Sandusky said in court.
Despite being shackled, Sandusky was able to give two thumbs up as he left the courtroom. He showed no emotion throughout the appearance.
As Sandusky walked out of court, someone in the gallery yelled, "We love you, Aaron."
Sandusky turns 43 today.
"It's not going to be a real happy birthday," former G3 Holistic patient Christopher Kenner said.
"I hate to think this is the last time I'll see him."
Government lawyers said Monday that four additional charges that Sandusky was facing will be dismissed.
Government attorneys had no comment at the courthouse.
Anderson recommended that Sandusky serve his time in Victorville federal prison.
Sandusky will also face five years of supervised released, but will not be fined.
Sandusky has been battling the city of Upland since the city filed an injunction to close him down in September 2010. The case is waiting to be heard by the state Supreme Court who will decide whether Upland was lawful in banning cooperatives through their zoning codes.
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