PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) busted a black-market marijuana delivery service in the Phoenix area. Sheriff's officials say 14 people were arrested in the sting.
MCSO detectives set up an undercover residence to use during the investigation, a home near 75th Street and Palm Lane in Scottsdale.
They then contacted multiple marijuana delivery services and posed as "customers."
In each case, detectives called the listed phone numbers and "placed orders" for marijuana and cannabis.
When suspects arrived at the home to deliver the goods to the undercover agents (who would pay cash,) detectives would then track them until they could be taken into custody.
The 10-hour sting occurred Thursday, Sept. 5.
“There’s no entrapment whatsoever. If you’re actively involved in distributing drugs unlawfully, then you bringing that to a door that you know to be unlawful-- that’s on your own initiative,” Sheriff Paul Penzone said.
MCSO says that since its inception in 2010, the black-market medical marijuana business has grown rapidly.
The purpose of this recent operation was to address the growing problem of the illegal sale and delivery of marijuana and narcotic cannabis products that are not protected under the AMMA (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) in the medical marijuana community.
MCSO says illegal delivery services attempt to mask their activities under the AMMA.
“Credit goes to our deputies and investigators who were innovative in trying to identify an effective way for us to address this growing problem of illegal marijuana distribution,” said Penzone said.
Most of the illegal delivery services targeted in this operation were contacted through an online site, advertising through Weedmaps.
These services pay a fee to advertise on Weedmaps without any vetting to verify that they are legally permitted to perform services in Maricopa County, according to MCSO.
Mark Steinmetz’ CEO of Nature’s Medicines Dispensary and Chair of the Arizona Dispensary Association said that operating by the book when it comes to medical marijuana has its highs and lows.
“It’s funny, when we first opened the store in 2013 there was a literal dispensary brick and mortar building not too far from here that was illegal, and we thought how long are these guys going to go on before they get shut down. This is the modern-day version of that,” said Steinmetz.
Steinmetz is talking about the amount of unlicensed businesses listed on websites, like Weedmaps, that’s supposed to connect legal dispensaries with card holders-- but that’s not always the case.
The AMMA does not authorize anyone but a licensed nonprofit dispensary to sell or deliver marijuana or narcotic cannabis for sale to patients in the State of Arizona.
The Weedmaps page also indicates that the deal will be a "donation" instead of a sale, which MCSO says is another attempt to mask its illegal operation behind the AMMA.
Many times, these delivery drivers work for six to 10 hours per day, often using marijuana and cannabis while working and driving under the influence, according to MCSO.
The suspects arrested have been identified as Albert Shlamoon, Brian Natkie, Daniel Garcia, Deon Payne, Jacob Walters, Jalynn Pelletier, James Brown, James Watkins, Karly Cramer, Raymus Bryant, Richard Hartman, Shiyuan Peng, Tianna Westley and Wendy Gonzalez.
All the suspects have been booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on charges of sale of narcotic drugs and sale of marijuana.