James Chaney, Owner of Tempe Pot Club Raided by DEA, Also Suspected of Possessing Meth
Image: Fox 10 News A white board taken by the DEA from the Arizona Go Green Compassion Club in Tempe lists per-ounce prices for various strains of weed.
The owner of a Tempe medical marijuana club raided by the DEA last week was already being sought by cops for possession of methamphetamine, records show.
James Chaney, 37, was arrested along with co-worker Rachel Beeder, 25, on September 29 during the morning raid of the Arizona Go Green Compassion Club at 426 East Southern Avenue.
A man who answered the phone at the club this morning said he can't talk about the situation.
We been getting the run-around from the DEA for the last few days while trying to get you more info. In the meantime, we've perused the court records, watched the Fox-10 News interview of Beeder and exchanged e-mails with Tom Horne.
The bottom line is that Chaney and Beeder appear to have strayed from both the voter-approved medical marijuana law and the state business models of other compassion clubs.
Beginning in mid-August, the DEA told the Kyrene Justice Court in Tempe in booking sheets, that undercover agents went to the "clinic" and bought marijuana on four separate occasions. Each time, they were shown a room that contained jars with various strains of pot, plus "candy, baked goods and liquids containing marijuana." They paid $300 per purchase.
Image: Fox 10 News Rachel Beeder
Beeder gave pot to the agents herself on two occasions, while the investigation showed that Chaney acted as the owner and manager of the shop, records state.
Agents wore masks and toted assaulted rifles as they stormed the club during the raid; Chaney's Phoenix home, which was searched simultaneously, allegedly contained 50 pounds of pot. Beeder also had an ounce in her car.
All told, the DEA found a total of about 60 to 70 pounds of marijuana and pot-infused edibles.
Both Chaney and Beeder have only lived at their separate Phoenix residences for six months or less, records show.
Chaney's a "fugitive of justice" on a meth possession charge, while Beeder also had a warrant out -- for misdemeanor hit-and-run.
Channel 10's cameras were on the scene during the raid and showed a price board listing "ounce specials" among the evidence hauled out of the club.
By itself, that seems like potential evidence that the law was being violated. The new law specifically states that pot can transferred to a state-approved patient by another patient or an approved caregiver as long as "nothing of value is transferred in return."
Stating in writing that "Purple Diesel" and "Morning Star" costs $400 an ounce probably wasn't the smartest idea.
Beeder, who gave a jail interview on Friday to Fox-10's Anita Roman, sounds like she's claiming ignorance as a defense. From Roman's write-up on the station's Web site:
Beeder doesn't think she's the problem, instead she points at a law that isn't defined enough.
"I think nobody has been able to give me a black or white answer..it's all gray..well it shouldn't be gray when you're talking about people's lives," she said.
Allan Sobol, the medical pot marketer who opened a compassion club in June, says he agrees with the DEA's decision.
"Those people were clearing selling marijuana and they should not have been," he says.
On the day of the raid, Sobol says, he received tons of phone calls from folks worried that clubs like his would be next. Sobol says he's not afraid because his 2811 Club, LLC -- which refers to the state statute authorizing patient-to-patient transfers -- doesn't sell marijuana.
It does, however, put qualified patients in touch with people who distribute marijuana. People pay a membership fee that gives them benefits like access to pot-industry-related classes Sobol's company teaches. Members of a separate organization, meanwhile, "give" marijuana to qualified patients for free at the club, he says.
Sobol says he believes a pending court decision regarding the legal status of compassion clubs in Arizona will go in his favor.
While Beeder and Chaney sort out their legal problems, their case symbolizes a bigger issue for the rest of the state. Last November, voters approved the use of marijuana for qualified patients and a system of dispensaries to legally provide the "medicine."
Governor Jan Brewer, who had lobbied against the passage of Proposition 203, has derailed the dispensary portion of the law, for now.
As of September 27, the state Department of Health Services had approved 13,109 patients. Without dispensaries -- and if the compassion clubs keep getting raided or get shot down in the courts -- these patients can still legally possess marijuana bought on the black market.
In other words, the actions of Brewer and the DEA directly aid drug dealers. And they make it tougher for the most needy of the pot patients to obtain a drug that provides real relief for their symptoms.
We're still waiting for a call back from the DEA, so we can ask how politics fits into the agency's actions against the Arizona Go Green Compassion Club. The federal agency has already hinted at the answer: The local office declined our request for an interview and referred us to its Washington D.C. headquarters -- which hasn't returned our call from yesterday afternoon.
The Phoenix DEA still hasn't put up anything about this raid on its Web site, seemingly proving it's not something they want to tout.
We asked the
new acting U.S. Attorney in Arizona, Ann Scheel, whether this raid represents a new approach to how the feds will deal with the state's rebellious medical marijuana act.
It may mean nothing, but it's probably worth mentioning that Scheel's husband, Shannon Scheel, is an agent for the DEA. In fact, he's the "special agent recruiter."
Through a spokesperson, Ann Scheel told New Times that the U.S. Attorney's Office is "still following the guidance" of the May 2 letter to Arizona by former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.
You remember -- that's the letter in which Burke reminded Arizonans that while the feds don't intend to go after sick people using medical weed in compliance with state law, pot's still against federal law and authorities might "vigorously enforce" the law against people who operate "large" pot production facilities.
Burke later clarified his letter, stating that he certainly wouldn't be targeting state workers who oversee the dispensary program. Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne used the letter as political cover to halt the dispensary applications. But since then, Burke's been ousted as U.S. Attorney, showing that Horne was right about one thing -- it would have been better to get Burke's clarifying statements in writing.
Horne tells New Times that his office did not instigate the raid on Go Green, but that the DEA later asked his office to handle the prosecutions of Chaney and Beeder on pot-dealing charges, to which Horne agreed.
James Chaney's booking photo
Horne says the facts of the case show it has "nothing to do" with the pending court case on the compassion clubs.
New Times dropped in at a Valley compassion club on Friday to ask whether the DEA raid had caused a chilling effect. A man at the club who didn't want to give his name said he hadn't heard about it -- but the news made him feel like closing up the business.
He didn't, though. A young woman looking for marijuana came into the club as New Times was leaving.
"Come on, back," the man told her cheerfully.
The DEA may be sending undercover officers into other Valley clubs. Combined with the possibility of a negative court ruling on the clubs, qualified patients may want to stock up while they still can.