Grand jury clears 3 in pot-growing investigation

A Mesa County grand jury declined to bring charges against three people investigated for a medical marijuana grow operation that was targeted by authorities in March, according to court files made public Friday.

The grand jury returned no indictments when presented with an opportunity Thursday night to level felony counts of cultivation of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and distribution of marijuana, against Cristin Groves, Brian Groves and Sid Squirrell, all owners of a medical marijuana dispensary, Naturals, A Wellness Center, 624 Rae Lynn Drive.

Squirrell, also a commercial Realtor with Bray & Co., leases a building at 573 W. Crete Circle, where Western Colorado Drug Task Force officers in March found 1,080 marijuana plants. Authorities said they sought a search warrant to determine whether that volume could be justified by the 308 medical-marijuana-registry cards found at the facility. The warrant also allowed Task Force officers to copy all of the registry cards.

“My client has always intended to stay within the law, and he was advised by his (prior) attorney he was operating within the law,” said Stephen Laiche, who represents Squirrell.

“(Law enforcement) has known about this since March, and they continued to let Mr. Squirrell maintain his business,” Laiche said.

Laiche declined comment when asked if Squirrell or Naturals’ other owners agreed to change any practices as a result of the investigation. Squirrell testified before the grand jury on June 17, Laiche said.

Cristin Groves, who along with her husband, Brian, opened Naturals in October 2009, declined to answer questions.

“We are extremely happy that the community, the Grand Jury, was able to weigh the evidence and agree that we are operating within Colorado state law,” Cristin Groves wrote in an e-mail.

Task Force officers visited Squirrell’s Crete Circle building March 9 after an employee at the nearby offices of the Grand Junction Census Bureau reported a strong “chemical odor” seeping through the building’s ventilation system.

A search warrant affidavit said the officers were allowed inside Squirrell’s grow operation by Naturals’ employees, and the officers returned with a seizure warrant for medical marijuana cards and samples of the marijuana.

Under membership agreements for Naturals’ customers, the Groves and Squirrell maintained they were operating as “primary caregivers” for the clients as defined under Amendment 20.

The amendment defines a primary caregiver as someone, other than the patient’s doctor, age 18 or older and having “significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient who has a debilitating medical condition.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, one of two prosecutors who presented evidence to the grand jury, declined comment Friday afternoon.


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