The confusing rollout of marijuana regulations in California has been underscored in Mendocino County, where local authorities licensed a company to deliver pot only to have state police arrest two employees who were trying to do just that with nearly a ton of weed.
The workers for Old Kai Distribution were transporting the marijuana from a farm when they were pulled over Friday afternoon by a California Highway Patrol officer on Highway 101 near Ukiah, according to Joe Rogoway, an attorney for the company. They were driving an unmarked van and were stopped for a traffic violation.
The workers showed the officer the company's county license and a manifest for the marijuana, but the officer insisted it was illegal, called for backup and arrested the men.
The company argues it can transport marijuana within the county with its local license, and county spokeswoman Sarah Dukett backed that interpretation. She said Old Kai was issued a distribution license last week that allows it to legally transport marijuana under two local ordinances passed earlier this year.
The workers were cited for unlawful transportation of marijuana and unlawful possession for sale. Investigators also seized all of the marijuana and the company's van.
"It is incomprehensible that this has occurred," said Rogoway, who sent a letter to CHP demanding that the charges be dropped and the marijuana returned to Old Kai.
Acting California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley said the arrest was appropriate because a state license also is required for legal transport and those permits don't take effect until Monday, when broad legalization arrives in California.
"They are following the laws that are in place now," Stanley said Wednesday, referring to his officers. "And when Jan. 1, 2018, comes they'll start following the laws that come into effect on that date."
The officer who made the Ukiah stop was not targeting the business, said Stanley, who is not aware of any other arrests of a locally licensed marijuana operation. CHP primarily is concerned with drivers who could be high behind the wheel and the agency has trained 97 percent of its officers and sergeants in advanced drugged driving recognition skills, he said.
Stanley commented after a ceremony for CHP Officer Andrew Camilleri, who was killed on Christmas Eve by a driver believed to be drunk and high.