Oaky Joe Munson stopped by last week. On the marijuana fame meter, Oaky is about a 9 headed for 10 where he'll join the legends of the Northcoast business — Eddy Lepp, Pebbles ‘Pebs’ Trippet, Matt Graves, Denis Peron, and Tim Blake.
"I'm 52 and I've been growing for 30 years," Joe booms. "I've never been convicted, no sir, not once," reports the son of a West Point father.
He's a medium sized, tow-headed, always smiling, ebullient dude whose Southern-accented voice comes with high decibel amplification. Joe apologizes. "I don't mean to yell but I'm deaf. Years ago, I got beat down in a bar fight with a big guy who hit me so hard he punctured by ear drums." The accent comes from his home state of Virginia, hence the 'Oaky' tag.
A dedicated family man, Joe's been married to Atsuka, a native of Japan, for many years. They have two children whose prowess in both the classroom and the martial arts the proud father mentions often.
The indictments? Oaky Joe is 3-0 in Mendocino County, 1-0 in Marin, 1-0 in San Francisco. Humboldt never knew he was there. Joe has learned the fine art of growing medicine by doing. His first grow was on the serene slopes of Mount Tamalpais. "Those plants just disappeared, roots and all. I don't know what happened there," he laughs. "Then I tried an indoor grow in San Francisco, but our equipment was all screwed up and we drowned all our plants."
In Mendocino County, where he's racked up the most acquittals, Oaky Joe, then new to Redwood Valley, established a large-scale grow next door to the home of legendary Mendo narc, Peter Hoyle, infamous among growers as The Man who seems to be everywhere, kicking in doors and taking names.
Joe hits himself on the head every time he mentions Hoyle, but Hoyle probably also hits himself in the head at the mention of Oaky Joe. They've been on a first-name basis for years, and Oaky Joe has beat Hoyle in court every time Hoyle has arrested him.
"Of all the places I could have rented in Mendocino County I set down next to him, "Joe laments, adding a string of unflattering descriptives for Hoyle and prosecutor Kitty Houston. "She called me, sarcastically, 'the Santa Claus of medical marijuana, but I'm the grinch who stole her Christmas when we went to court."
Joe's in trouble. Again. Well, half-trouble. He gets busted a lot but never convicted because juries invariably agree that Joe is growing medicine in exact legal proportion to his roster of patients, and in scrupulous compliance with the fluid marijuana laws applied by Sacramento and individual counties. And when he goes to court, lots of his patients go with him, filling the courtroom with canes, walkers, wheel chairs, and every single one of them says that without Joe's primo medical marijuana, their lives, already made difficult by illness, would be intolerable.
Joe posts his acquittals on his front door in anticipation of the bust sure to come. Just inside the front door he keeps a scrupulously maintained binder containing the names and addresses of all his patients. He's ready round the clock for a compliance check by the forces of law and order, who have always ignored the paperwork, arrested him, and have ripped up Joe's thriving field of meds.
The cops say Oaky Joe is growing to get rich. Joe says he grows to help people who depend on him to keep them alive.
Most recently, at his carefully documented medical grow in West Sonoma County near Forestville, Joe, along with his workers, was arrested, his crop mostly destroyed.
According to California's medical marijuana laws the police are supposed to do the math. If the patient-to-plant ratio adds up, the cops are supposed to go away. If it doesn't, the plants are seized and everyone goes to jail.
Oaky Joe is in the Everyone Goes To Jail category.
Sonoma County's Cultivation guidelines are quite clear. "A qualified patient or a person holding a valid identification card or a designated primary caregiver, or primary caregivers or qualified patients whom associate collectively or cooperatively, may also cultivate cannabis in an amount not to exceed more than one-hundred (100) square feet total garden canopy, per qualified patient, as measured by the combined vegetative growth area."
Oaky Joe is designated primary caregiver for about 60 people, and he has the required proof that he's the primary caregiver and they are qualified patients, and they're all in Oaky Joe's collective.
Which means he grows a big garden, a very big garden, maybe the biggest garden in Sonoma County, so big he employs four young men to keep it green and curative. And there it is right out there in the open, a vivid cannabis green provocation to the aerial police surveillance that constantly buzzes Joe's pharm.
A year ago, the flyovers stopped and the invasion commenced.
"The fall of last year," Joe recalls, indignant at the memory, "they came and took all my plants and charged me with four different counts of stuff, including a gun charge. I don't have guns. I've never had guns. I have kids, and kids and guns don't mix. The charges are already down to one for cultivation. They kept me in the Sonoma County Jail for a day and a half, and all I wanted was to get out and get back with my wife and kids. I didn't have enough money to bail out my four guys, none of whom had any kind of priors with law enforcement. One kid was a dropped out nuclear physicist who was afraid of getting blown to smithereens. I invited him out to work under the organic sun growing medicine for people who need it. There were three kids from Virginia, an engineer working as a cab driver, another engineer working as a caretaker for a paraplegic law professor.'
Joe's three fresh-air helpers were released without being charged.
Joe, still angry at the memory, says the invasion force "put the cuffs on everybody from the five businesses on the property, but none of the other people were growing. 30 armed cops show up. They even had a tank, one of those assault vehicle things. They told my neighbor, ‘We've been watching Mr. Munson get bigger all the time.' But there are 60-plus people in my collective and I have 215 cards for every one of them. But the cops didn't bother with compliance. They had a whole buncha trucks and trailers, and one of them joked that they couldn't use a grenade launcher because we were compliant. One cop said it was 'the nicest garden I've ever been to,' but they came to wreck me and that's what they did without bothering to see that I'm legal. It was eradicate first, ask questions later.
"This cop said to me, 'Aren't you afraid people with guns are going to come up here and rob you? I told him, 'That's what's happening right now! People with guns and uniforms are robbing me.'
"This huge guy with big scythe-like blade on a big stick knocked all the plants down, and off they went in the trucks. I can see a couple of armed guys coming in first to make sure there's no tweekers with pit bulls once they get there, but they came with enough people and guns to invade a small country."
The raid team, inexplicably, dumped about forty plants over the side of the road not far from Joe's garden. Joe and his workers hauled them back up the hill, salvaging what they could. Later, in jail, there was still so much resin on his crew's forearms the whole unit smelled like marijuana, causing a jailer to bark out a lockdown warning over the PA. "I call that hairy hash," Joe says.
"I don't deal with criminals," Joe insists. "The only criminals I see are the cops when they show up at my house and ignore my paperwork. They're breaking the law, not me."
Oaky Joe Munson goes to court Tuesday, March 29th, 8:30am, Room One, Sonoma County Superior Court, Santa Rosa. He is defended by Keith Faulder of Ukiah. Joe says "a whole lotta my patients will be there."
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Addendum: A letter to the Ukiah Daily Journal described an early Mendo case brought against Oaky Joe:
I was present the day the District Attorney's office dropped the charges against Laura Hamburg. While sitting in the courtroom after the decision, I noticed a couple [Mr. and Mrs. Munson] who were beginning their preliminary hearing for cultivation and cultivation with intent to sell. I had not read about this case in the paper, so I stayed to listen.
When the state opened the hearing, they stated that the defendants were growing 137 plants, approximately 10,000 grams of marijuana were found along with cash and a pay/owe sheet. Wow! Sounds like a big bust. Until the defense began to question the State's expert witness. The deputy from the major crimes task force testified under direct examination that they seized approximately 10,000 grams of marijuana, then stated there was approximately 905 grams of shake.
Upon further testimony as well as evidence listed on the return from the search warrant, the total dried marijuana flowers weighed only 3 pounds 2 ounces. The pay/owe sheet was not found, and the amount of cash that was present was $1,426. The defendants had 11 patient notes. Judge Brown dismissed the case at the preliminary hearing because he didn't feel the case would hold up at trial.
This is an example of a case that was not reported in the papers, no high profile defendants with "daddy's get out of jail free card” as some readers have portrayed other defendants to have.
I understand that law enforcement, upon arriving at the scene, needs to make a decision at the time. The State, however, should have done a better job investigating this case instead of taking the written report from a cop and going ahead with a case. If the DA [Lintott] would spend more time looking deeper into a case rather than flying by the seat of their pants, we could save a lot of court time as well as money.
— Jeanette Bogue, Ukiah