LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California man was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Monday for running what prosecutors claimed was an illegal pot business that only pretended to be legitimate under the state's medical marijuana law.
Aaron Sandusky, 43, of Rancho Cucamonga was sentenced for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
When he was convicted last fall, jurors found the charges involved at least 1,000 pot plants, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.
Sandusky could have faced a potential life sentence but instead received the minimum sentence, said his attorney, Roger Diamond. The conviction and sentence will be appealed, he said.
Sandusky is former president of G3 Holistics Inc. The company operated three medical marijuana dispensaries in Colton, Moreno Valley and Upland along with a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Ontario that grew 60 varieties of marijuana.
Federal authorities ordered the clinics closed in 2011 and shut down the pot-growing facility.
Sandusky and five other people were arrested last June and charged with violating federal drug laws. The others pleaded guilty before trial and await sentencing.
Sandusky was convicted last October of the conspiracy and distribution charges. The jury deadlocked on four other counts and a mistrial was declared on those charges.
The case illustrated the ongoing conflict between state and federal law regarding marijuana. California law permits distribution of marijuana for medical reasons through nonprofit collectives. However, growing and selling the drug remains illegal under federal law.
California's four federal prosecutors launched a coordinated crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry in 2011 by threatening landlords with property forfeiture actions. Since then, hundreds of pots shops have gone out of business.
Federal authorities said they were targeting large suppliers who were using the California law as a cover to run illegal profit-making businesses.
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in Sacramento, said last month that federal authorities were not focusing on backyard grows with small amounts of marijuana for use by seriously ill people.
In a sentencing memo for Sandusky, prosecutors described him as "an unrepentant manipulator who used the perceived ambiguity surrounding 'medical' marijuana to exploit a business opportunity for himself."
They said Sandusky used G3 as a means to replace the vast income he lost from the collapse of his real estate business.
However, Sandusky's attorney said his client had followed California law that required, among other things, that medical marijuana providers grow their own marijuana.
"He clearly was acting in good faith. He complied with the California regulations," Diamond said. "We don't believe that the federal law can be applied to purely internal California activity."
Diamond said there are no firm criteria for federal prosecution of medical marijuana growers. He called enforcement arbitrary and vindictive.