In a surprise raid, officers arrested the owner of Nature’s Harvest Friday afternoon after a six-month investigation that included undercover stings where officers reportedly bought medical marijuana from two clinics illegally.
Officers arrested owner Sheelah Golliglee at her home off East Elk Ridge after a Navajo County jury indicted her for operating a criminal enterprise.
Police also seized patient records as part of the investigation.
Outside her home, a calm Golliglee said she didn’t understand why officers were there since she was operating within the Arizona Medical Marijuana Law, which voters passed. Later, she posted a $2,500 bond and was released from jail.
She said she was a qualified cardholder and caregiver and denied any illegal activity. “There was no selling,” she said. “It was under lock and key. We had patients’ names on the medicine. I don’t know why there is a search warrant.” No other arrests have been made.
Officers served search warrants at Golliglee’s homes in Payson and Lakeside as well as two Nature’s Harvest offices, said Chief Deputy James Molesa with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO), which led the investigation.
Although the investigation originated in Lakeside, detectives conducted undercover buys in both locations, said investigators.
“This is Gila County and Navajo County coming down on people who sell marijuana in their communities,” he said. “This is not whether or not you believe in the medical marijuana law, it is people capitalizing on somebody else’s pain and addiction to make a profit.”
Officers confiscated roughly 80 marijuana plants from Golliglee’s home and other evidence.
Officers also collected boxes of “medibles,” baked goods and edible marijuana products and records from Nature’s Harvest on the Beeline Highway where cardholders reportedly came to get their medical marijuana and other products. Many of the medibles tested during the investigation by the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Lab reportedly came back as narcotics.
“Now I have been in the drug enforcement administration for 22 years before joining the sheriff’s office and I knew marijuana is marijuana in the criminal code and narcotics are like opium and heroin,” he said. “So we buy these medibles, we just wanted to see what they are, and we submit them to DPS. DPS comes back and says, “Yeah, they are narcotics.”
He explained when the marijuana plant is synthesized into oil it becomes more potent, reportedly making it a narcotic under Arizona law.
The investigation, dubbed “Cash for Compassion: The World’s Second Oldest Profession,” by the NCSO started after a medical marijuana cardholder complained to police he had been asked to pay for medical marijuana from Nature’s Harvest Lakeside clinic.
“He makes a complaint to law enforcement because his understanding of the law is that it is illegal to sell marijuana and in his mind that is what they were doing,” he said. “We sent in our officers to find out what the deal was.”
After multiple undercover visits, officers allegedly found marijuana was being exchanged for money in Nature’s Harvest pain clinics in Payson and Lakeside.
“We actually bought marijuana from (Golliglee) after giving her $65,” he said.
Under Arizona’s medical marijuana law, only dispensaries can sell marijuana.
“Asking for the consulting fee, the donation, which we have seen a lot of throughout the state, is just a spin to make a profit.”
As officers searched her home Friday, Golliglee, with black hair, heavy makeup, high-heeled, fur-lined clogs and bright pink tights under a mini-skirt, sat coolly in her SUV, waiting for an interview with a television crew.
Golliglee talked to the Roundup as police searched her brightly colored home with a purple garage door on an Elk Ridge cul-de-sac.
Two Nature’s Harvest employees dressed in medical scrubs commented, “This is just a job.”
Golliglee said she is a qualified medical marijuana cardholder.
“I think what happened,” she said, “is that it all started at Nature’s Harvest in Lakeside. I don’t understand why .... We just opened a healing center last Friday (in Lakeside) with yoga and acupuncture — it’s a complete wellness center. I was supposed to meet with the town officials this week.
Neighbors looked on anxiously during the raid, all refusing to comment on the record.
News of the raid ignited a fury of comments on the Roundup’s Facebook page.
Some expressed relief the Payson clinic had closed while others said officers should focus on other crimes.
“I do feel as though this was a waste of time legal or not. I agree with those mentioning meth, heroin, etc., those are the drugs we should be putting priority on to get off the streets!” one man wrote.
The raid follows a similar one in the Valley Jan. 29, when Tempe police arrested a man allegedly running two “compassion clubs” that sold medical marijuana.
“They charged a donation, so the semantics are different, but the bottom line is you got to pay for marijuana,” Molesa said.
While the more than 35,000 Arizona residents with medical marijuana cards are legally allowed to use marijuana, obtaining it lawfully poses a challenge. Only a handful of dispensaries have opened in the state, leaving many to either grow their own cannabis or rely on caregivers.
One applicant received a license to open a dispensary in Northern Gila County. However, the state Department of Health Services cannot legally release the identity of the dispensary license holder.
The licensed dispensaries remain the only places people can pay for marijuana products.
The law permits people with cards to grow up to 12 marijuana plants if no licensed dispensary operates within 25 miles.
A designated caregiver can give up to five qualifying patients medical marijuana, but cannot charge a fee. A patient can reimburse a caregiver only for actual costs incurred.
At Nature’s Harvest, patients would reportedly come in for a consultation and explain their ailment. Golliglee would suggest a strain of marijuana to treat it.
They would then pay $65 for the consultation and receive marijuana, Molesa said.
“As far as the state is concerned, she is selling marijuana and she is not a dispensary.”
Police Chief Don Engler praised Navajo County’s investigation. The Payson Police Department, DPS, GCSO, Yavapai County and other agencies assisted with the case.
Crews turned the water and power off at Golliglee’s Payson home after her arrest. An elaborate wiring system to power the fans and lights in a basement grow site were not up to code, Molesa said.
While no other arrests have been made, they are possible as the investigation continues, said investigators.
Reporter Michele Nelson contributed to this article.