Man sentenced for creating pot dispensaries as front for drug ring

Joshua Hester to serve 100 months in prison

SAN DIEGO - A man who created two medical marijuana dispensaries and a phony board of directors as a front for a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking operation was sentenced Thursday to more than eight years in federal prison.

Joshua John Hester, 31, pleaded guilty a year ago to eight felony charges, including conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and conspiracy to maintain drug-related premises.

Hester was sentenced to 100 months in custody by U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez.

According to his plea agreement, Hester admitted that he was the silent owner of two marijuana dispensaries known as the Downtown Kush Lounge in downtown San Diego and the Green Kross Collective in Mission Beach, where he made millions of dollars in the retail sale of marijuana.

Authorities said the Hester case was the most significant prosecution of a large-scale dispensary operator in the Southern District of California.

"Joshua Hester is the poster boy for the types of marijuana dispensary operations that the federal government is criminally targeting," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "He wasn't overseeing a nonprofit collective that served sick people. He was a convicted drug trafficker making millions of dollars selling high-quality marijuana to recreational users and exploiting state laws that were meant to help the seriously ill."

Since October 2011, the U.S. Attorney's Office, in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration, has issued cease and desist letters to about 253 marijuana dispensaries in the Southern District of California. There has been a 95 percent self-closure rate in response to the letters, with less than a dozen dispensaries remaining open.

In his plea agreement, Hester admitted to two types of trafficking. First, he went the traditional route, using a supplier, distributing more than 1,000 kilograms of high-quality marijuana and laundering millions of dollars in profits.

When his supplier was arrested, Hester opened dispensaries and started selling and manufacturing his own marijuana and purchased bulk quantity from others.

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