Feds return seized cannabis money

By Tony Reed - Del Norte Triplicate

Nine months after it was seized during a traffic stop in Stanislaus County, federal customs and border patrol authorities have returned $253,733 to two Crescent City men.

According to Bay Area attorney Matthew Kumin, the money was taken from Brian Clemann and Richard Barry, who were transporting it as part of their licensed business, Wild Rivers Transport, on Sept. 6, 2018.

“The California Highway Patrol (CHP), which initially seized the funds as part of its ongoing War on Drugs, handed the money over to agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol,” a Kumin Law Office release said. “CHP believed, mistakenly, that by turning the legally-derived funds over to federal authorities, they could put the money out of legal reach and hobble California’s emerging cannabis industry. The case underscores that CHP’s efforts to shore up a failed and widely reviled drug policy is coming to an end.”

By phone, the pairs’ attorney Matthew Kumin said his legal team was setting up for a court battle, with six to seven attorneys ready to go to court.

“Instead, new laws (the Joyce Amendment and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in US v. Mcintosh) gave them the tools to decimate the once powerful threat of federal forfeiture,” the release states. “The Team’s message: Attorneys can now successfully challenge federal seizures and licensed cannabis entities can now ship and transport cash from medical cannabis sales with more confidence.”

Probable cause question

However, the case may not be over. Kumin explained in addition to the money, CHP officers found concealed weapons in the truck with Clemann and Barry, who are former CHP officers themselves.

Barry was fired, reinstated and retired, while Clemann was fired and prosecuted but the jury could not reach a verdict, according to a previous interview with Kumin.

A CHP report on the stop said the two identified themselves as retired CHP officers when they were stopped on Interstate 5 for a mudflap violation. The two were released and later observed again later by the same officer.

In a previous interview, Kumin said the officer made a second stop, ran over to the truck and said “You told me you’d resigned. You were fired.” A reason for the second stop was not listed in the release.

The two were released with a warning after being held for several hours.

Kumin said probable cause will play a part in future hearings, and his firm intends to file a suppression motion to that effect. The motion will ask to suppress evidence from the second stop, asserting that it was illegal. He said officers also took guns from the two.

New charges

Now, several months after the stop, weapons charges were filed by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office and are pending in Superior Court, Kuman said. Attempts to reach the Stanislaus County DA’s office information officer were unsuccessful as of press time Friday.

“I believe it’s retaliation,” Kumin said, noting the filing came months after the stop from which the two were released.

“The case highlights what every licensed medical cannabis operator operating in any state that allows medical cannabis, must know: that they can now successfully challenge any federal forfeiture involving cash or medical cannabis seized by or turned over to federal authorities,” the release states.

“We did this to make a point and highlight the problems happening in the transition from a black market to a new, legal market,” Kumin said.

Kumin said the ordeal was a lot to go through in order to be a licensed transporter in California, and the return of the money takes away CHP’s power to use forfeiture as an enforcement tool.

“The federal government’s surrender in this forfeiture case gives hope to an otherwise beleaguered California cannabis industry, beset by over-taxation, over-regulation, and continuing stigma,” the release said. “The case also puts the CHP on notice that its core tactic — turning seized cannabis and cannabis cash over to federal authorities — will no longer work.”