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23 felony counts each brother faces could result in a max prison sentence of 40 years

By Hempology | November 6, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle, CA
05 Nov 2007
Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
(Relevant part of a longer column)


“They’re just a couple of nice kids from Berkeley who wound up being the victims of their own success.”

That’s how lawyer and longtime family friend Harold Rosenthal summed up the case against his clients Winslow and Abraham Norton, the brothers charged last week with moving an estimated $49 million worth of pot through their marijuana dispensary just outside Hayward over the past three years.

And, believe it or not, the brothers paid state and federal taxes on all of it.

What’s more, their dispensary had a medical marijuana permit issued by Alameda County and was regularly visited by sheriff’s deputies to make sure everything was on the up and up. 

Although as Sheriff Gregory Ahern told us in a recent interview, most of the young “patients” who frequented the dispensary on Mission Boulevard didn’t “appear to be suffering from any serious illness.”

Nevertheless, state law allows marijuana be sold to anyone who has a doctor’s note, which – if you know the right doctor – takes about 15 minutes and costs about $100.

Winslow Norton, 26, who lives in Lafayette, and 23-year-old Abraham Norton of Oakland were indicted by the feds on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, distribution of marijuana, maintaining drug-involved premises, conspiracy to launder money and money laundering.

The feds said the brothers used drug proceeds to purchase luxury items and properties, including two new Mercedes-Benzes, a new Ford F-250 truck, three new motorcycles and Winslow’s Lafayette home.

The Nortons certainly don’t appear to have been hurting for money.  According to the indictment, when the brothers opened their Compassionate Collective of Alameda County in 2004, they took in $74,000.

In 2005, sales rose to $1.3 million.

In 2006, sales hit $21 million.

And in the first six months of this year, the brothers took in a whopping $26.3 million.

“They were clearly out of control,” said Drug Enforcement Administration agent Javier Pena.

Still, “as far we know, these guys had been following the rules,” said Bob Swanson, constituent liaison for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes the club.

At least, the state’s rules.  The feds don’t recognize the right to sell or use medical marijuana.

“My understanding is that they took salaries, and that the rest of the money went back into the business,” Swanson said.  “They paid their workers well and gave them benefits.”

Plus, Swanson says, they were active in the community.

“They turned out for our fall cleanup and brought about 20 people with them,” he said.  “They were also big contributors to our Healthy Living for Seniors Festival.”

At the same time, they were buying the cars and other pricey baubles.  The feds have seized those, along with the $1.5 million Lafayette home and a commercial building in Albany.

“Like a lot of guys their age, they like shiny things,” said lawyer Rosenthal.

Indeed, the Norton boys’ evolution from teens who worked after school at the outdoor store REI to operators of one of the biggest medical marijuana operations in the Bay Area included scenes right out of the rap videos the brothers so enjoy.

Not all of them pretty.

Two years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, a team of armed hoods busted into the dispensary, tied everyone up and robbed the place of about $50,000.

Four months later, a masked gunman fired four shots into a dispensary worker’s car as he pulled into the parking lot.  The worker hit the gas and plowed through a fence to make his getaway.

In July of this year, one of the club’s customers was ambushed and killed at a nearby gas station and his pot taken.

And this past February, the brothers themselves were involved in a shootout at a Fremont hotel.

“These girls lured them to a party through MySpace,” Rosenthal said.  “Six guys showed up heavily armed and the bullets started flying.”

Both brothers were wounded, and both have had to undergo repeated operations.

Still, Rosenthal insists, “If they showed up to date your daughter, you’d say, ‘My, what good boys.’ If they weren’t doing this, they’d likely be at UC Santa Cruz or Hayward State.”

One might think that after all the bullets, the boys from Berkeley might think it was time to find another line of work.

But Rosenthal said they were “really proud of what they had built.  Plus, everyone – the cops, the county – were all telling them what a good job they were doing.”

They’d even started up individual retirement accounts.

Now they may be looking at a different kind of retirement.  The 23 felony counts each brother faces could result in a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.


According to a federal indictment, these are the year-by-year sales at Winslow and Abraham Norton’s Compassionate Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary outside Hayward:

2004 $74,000

2005 $1.3 million

2006 $21 million

2007 $26.3 million*

* Sales for first six months of the year.

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