Case Against Legal Cannabis Company Med-West Moves Forward

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The criminal case against legal medical marijuana business Med-West will proceed with a “status conference” in November, it was decided by Judge Michael T. Smyth at a hearing in San Diego Superior Court on Tuesday, September 12.

Appearing before the judge were James Slatic, Med-West owner; four of the company’s employees, Kensuke Hanaoka, Patric McDonald, Matthew Carmichael and Daniel Gregg; and attorney Jessica McElfresh. The defendants are charged with numerous felonies, including conspiracy to illegally extract cannabis.

The San Diego, California company was raided by law enforcement in January 2016, despite having a business license to operate. The company, according to Slatic, had done all it could to comply with California’s ambiguous medical marijuana laws in force at the time.

Judge Smyth scheduled the status conference for November 13, when a date for a preliminary hearing is expected to be added to the calendar. Asst. District Attorney Jorge Del Portillo and the lawyers for the defendants agreed that they needed more time to prepare for the case.

During the hearing, Paul Pfingst, one of the attorneys representing Slatic, asked the judge to remove a Fourth Amendment waiver, which had been included in the conditions of his bail. Under the waiver, Slatic has had to give up some of his civil rights.

“It suspends search and seizure,” Slatic explained. “So, I can be searched at any time in my home, my office, my car—with or without probable cause, with or without a warrant.”

James Slatic (Photo by A.J. Herrington)

A pioneer in the industry, Slatic had a successful medical marijuana consulting firm, in addition to Med-West. The Fourth Amendment waiver has had a chilling effect on that business and made it difficult for him to earn a living.

“Other legal cannabis businesses don’t want to deal with me,” he said. “I’m like radioactive, because they’re afraid if I come to their office, or somewhere for a meeting, the police will show up and search them.”

The charges against cannabis attorney McElfresh have gained national attention because of the implications they have for the concept of attorney-client privilege. The case is based on what McElfresh contends are privileged communications between her and Slatic, who she was representing at the time.

During a search of her office and home in May of this year, McElfresh’s files, computers and cell phone were seized. Del Portillo, of the DA’s office, has asked for permission to search all computer files that contain McElfresh’s name. A hearing before a different judge is scheduled for September 27 to decide on matters related to the search.

Dozens of McElfresh’s former clients, through new lawyers, have asserted attorney-client privilege over seized documents that pertain to their businesses and want them withheld from the district attorney.

Jessica McElfresh and her attorney Eugene Iredale (Photo by A.J. Herrington)

After the hearing, McElfresh explained what’s next for her defense team.

“We’re very focused on the 27th,” she said. “We think that’s going to be an interesting day because we’re going to be dealing with these issues on attorney-client privilege. Unfortunately, the DA’s office is seeking to not only litigate the issues that are still outstanding, they want to re-litigate everything the judge has already decided.”

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