WAILUKU - A Kihei man, sentenced Thursday for his part in an alleged marijuana trafficking operation, said a doctor directed him to a Paia medical marijuana advocacy group linked to the drug distribution.
"He sends me to Patients Without Time, actually asks me if I wanted to be a club member," said John "Chris" Cooper, 42. "That is the only reason I am here today.
"Why would a practicing physician tell you to go to an illegal place in a storefront?"
Deputy Public Defender Adriel Menor said why the doctor wasn't implicated in the conspiracy "is clearly a question for law enforcement."
"Mr. Cooper relied on and placed his trust in his doctor," Menor said.
Originally charged with criminal conspiracy, Cooper pleaded no contest Thursday to a lesser charge of second-degree promotion of a detrimental drug. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine and was given a chance to keep the conviction off his record if he complies with court requirements for one year.
Cooper was among seven defendants arrested in November 2008 as part of "Operation Weedkiller." The police investigation centered on Patients Without Time, which had a Paia storefront. Police said the group, founded by Brian Murphy, exploited medical marijuana laws to sell the drug to hundreds of people.
Menor said Cooper has a state medical marijuana "blue" card allowing him to have a limited supply of the drug for his medical use. When he had more than his allotted number of marijuana plants, Cooper contacted Patients Without Time, "believing they were a legitimate organization" based on what his doctor had told him, Menor said.
He said Cooper turned over fewer than 20 plants to Patients Without Time "in his earnestness to pass on some benefit to others."
Menor said Cooper was recorded on "probably less than half a dozen" phone calls on wiretaps obtained as part of the investigation.
"He got put on the radar map," Menor said. "He was never part of any conspiracy with other co-defendants."
A Jan. 14 trial date is set in 2nd Circuit Court for Murphy, 55, of Haiku; Stuart Hirotsu, 50, of Wailuku; William "Bill" Cox, 50, of Haiku; and Robert "Bobby" Armitage, 60, of Wailuku. They face charges including criminal conspiracy.
Two other co-defendants, Brian Igersheim, 33, of Makawao and Douglas Kaleikini, 57, of Wailuku have entered no-contest pleas in their cases.
Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Tate said Cooper has no other criminal record and has remained arrest-free while the case has been pending.
"In spite of his blue card, it's still illegal to distribute marijuana," Tate said. "He has no status as a caregiver to transfer or distribute marijuana."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.