‘Hippy Gourmet’ won’t face pot sale charges | TheUnion.com

‘Hippy Gourmet’ won’t face pot sale charges

The "Hippy Gourmet," who was arrested more than a year and a half ago on suspicion of marijuana sales, will not face any criminal charges in the case, a Nevada County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

A preliminary hearing into the evidence against Bruce Murray Brennan lasted a day and a half before Judge Tom Anderson ruled that he would not hold him to answer on charges, saying Brennan's growing had not been shown to be unlawful.

"There's no evidence of profit," Anderson said, adding that there was intent to sell to a collective, but that was not shown to be unlawful. "The evidence is simply too vague."

Brennan was arrested in September 2012 after narcotics detectives went to his residence to conduct a medical marijuana compliance check.

Nevada County Sheriff's deputies had gone to Brennan's home in the 20000 block of Woodbury Drive in response to a complaint but obtained a search warrant when they suspected Brennan was growing for profit.

Det. Mark Hollitz testified he went to Brennan's residence on Sept. 13, 2012, to conduct a compliance check for the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance.

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Hollitz added that the visit was in response to a complaint received the week prior.

According to Hollitz, the compliance check team was trying to enforce the ordinance evenly throughout the county, in every supervisorial district.

On the day of the check, Hollitz said he met with Sgt. Ray Kress and decided they would address complaints in District 2, including Brennan's property.

"We had not been to South County in a little while," Hollitz said.

He added that he was aware there had been a home invasion robbery in the area several years earlier but did not know it was Brennan's residence.

Brennan catered to celebrities such as Ronald Reagan and Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s, then moved to San Francisco and opened an inn with his sister in the Haight.

His "Hippy Gourmet" television series began in 2001 on public access cable TV stations in San Francisco and Marin County and started broadcasting on PBS nationally in 2004.

Brennan left the show in 2007 — the same year he was the victim of the violent home invasion robbery at his Nevada County property.

According to The Union archives, a group of five men wearing ski masks and armed with crow bars, baseball bats and at least one handgun broke in, looking for marijuana and cash.

Compliance check turns into criminal arrest

Hollitz testified that two narcotics detectives — Jeff Martin and Mike Vingom — went with him on the compliance check so they could learn how to enforce the ordinance.

The three deputies arrived, walking toward the back of the residence, and saw about five people sitting on a large deck, trimming marijuana.

Martin subsequently determined the grow should be investigated as a possible criminal matter and left to obtain a search warrant, Hollitz testified.

Martin testified to seeing the trimmers on the deck with numerous bags of processed marijuana and estimated there were about 80 plants in the garden.

Brennan told him that he was part of a "loosely formed collective" and was the caregiver to two women, one of whom was his mother. Brennan also said he was going to take marijuana to "clubs" in the Bay Area to try and get the best price possible on consignment, Martin testified.

"He wanted to keep about three pounds for himself," Martin said. "The rest would go to clubs or he would give it away."

Brennan told him that he would use the money he made for selling the marijuana to pay his bills, including his mortgage.

Martin testified that the presence of scales, the trimmers and the large marijuana garden all were factors in considering Brennan's grow to be a possible criminal endeavor.

"Did you ever ascertain if the marijuana was being lawfully cultivated for patients?" Brennan's attorney, Kali Grech, asked.

"By the end of the interview, I felt it was not," Martin said, adding that Brennan said he would shop his marijuana around Bay Area clubs and then take the money to pay his mortgage, car payment, insurance and taxes.

"In my mind, that's a criminal enterprise."

Medical marijuana expert Chris Conrad also testified for the defense, saying that the amount of marijuana being grown was reasonable for use by the 13 members of the collective.

Conrad also testified to what might be considered reasonable renumeration — reimbursement for overhead and compensation for the grower's time and effort — saying it could cost hundreds of dollars per plant just in up-front costs if you include utilities, insurance and the cost of the growing location.

Conrad estimated the total yield of the garden could have been about 29 pounds, versus Martin's estimate of nearly 34 pounds.

A member of Brennan's collective testified, as did his sister, Pamela Brennan.

Both said Brennan lived frugally and often turned to his sister for financial help.

Of about $23,000 deposited into Brennan's bank account in 2012, his sister testified that about $10,000 came from her.

Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong argued that Brennan was using the money from selling his marijuana for profit, saying that paying his mortgage was a benefit far beyond renumeration.

"The issue here is simply whether the evidence shows criminal activity," Anderson said, noting that Brennan identified himself as a member of a collective in which he was the principal grower.

Anderson added that if the sheriff's office had followed up on the grow as a violation of the cultivation ordinance, more information would have been available to him.

He found insufficient evidence and declined to hold Brennan to answer on the two counts of possessing and cultivating marijuana for sale, a decision that prompted a group hug for Brennan and his supporters.

"Justice was served," Grech said after the hearing.

"I'm really happy for Mr. Brennan. He has suffered a lot. I'm glad the judge carefully considered the evidence and made the right decision. Moving forward, I hope for more education of officers on what is lawful so that people acting in compliance aren't unjustly prosecuted."

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.