cannabisnews.com: Drug Agents Shutter Medical Pot Dispensaries





Drug Agents Shutter Medical Pot Dispensaries
Posted by CN Staff on August 31, 2007 at 06:08:36 PT
By Michael Manekin, Staff Writer
Source: Oakland Tribune
Redwood City, CA -- Soon after the Patients Choice Resource Cooperative moved into its new digs in downtown San Mateo, the group received a cease-and-desist letter from the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. Patients Choice is a medical marijuana dispensary, one of dozens in the Bay Area providing medicine for patients in possession of doctors' letters prescribing the drug.
But the cooperative was not complying with state and federal law, according to the November 2006 letter, and it was told to close. On Wednesday afternoon, DEA agents and local law enforcement stormed the tiny storefront office and two other medical marijuana dispensaries in the city's downtown and closed them. The operation, led by the DEA, was the largest Bay Area raid on medical marijuana dispensaries in nearly a year. Before the raids, the district attorney's office was holding out hope that Patients Choice "would recognize what they were doing as not in compliance with California law, and they would shut down," said San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox. Instead, Patients Choice asked its attorney to send the district attorney's office a letter saying that its business was perfectly in compliance with state law in accordance with Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot measure that state voters approved to allow use of medical marijuana; SB420, a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2004 that allows medical marijuana patients to form their own cooperatives; and People v. Urziceanu, a 2005 appellate court ruling that found that SB420 allows consumer cooperatives, such as Patients Choice, to accept money in exchange for medicine. Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe considered the letter, reflected on the state's ambiguous legal definition of medical marijuana dispensaries, and made a decision. "We could have sat here and spent a great deal of taxpayer money in San Mateo County, prosecuting it and going through the appeals, or we could bring the case to the attention of the federal government," Wagstaffe said. When Matt Kumin, the San Francisco-based attorney for Patients Choice and a consultant to some 80 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, learned that federal agents had raided his clients and two additional dispensaries, his reaction was swift. "The local DA tries to do a prosecution, but it's too difficult. He's got a bitter taste in his mouth, so he calls the feds. "To me, it's very cowardly," he added. "San Mateo  God, what a conservative place!"  Trial Program Actually, until now San Mateo County had not been conservative when it came to medical marijuana. One year after 66 percent of voters passed Prop. 215, the Board of Supervisors approved a trial program for the county hospital to treat terminally ill patients with medical marijuana. When the state began to issue cards for medical marijuana patients in 2004, the county was one of the first to begin registering qualified residents, said John Conley, the county's public health director. "The Board of Supervisors has been very supportive of medical marijuana in general," Conley said. Maybe that's why on Thursday Supervisor Jerry Hill questioned the legitimacy of the raids on the three medical marijuana dispensaries, provided that the businesses were "clearly providing the drug for medical reasons." Whether the dispensaries were operating within state medical marijuana laws is anyone's guess. A DEA spokesperson would not comment on the issue and said the agency only concerns itself with federal drug laws. The county's Narcotics Task Force and the San Mateo Police Department, which assisted in the raid after cooperating with a nine-month investigation of the dispensaries, refused to comment on the issue, explaining that the search warrants and other documents related to the case were sealed. When asked to comment on the case, county Sheriff Greg Munks referred questions to the DEA. Susan Manheimer, San Mateo's chief of police, did not return numerous phone calls seeking an interview. The raids turned up 50 pounds of processed marijuana, hashish, cannabis-laced edibles and about $30,000 in cash, according to a statement released by the DEA. No arrests were reported, nor were there reports that the dispensaries were doing anything not permitted by the state's marijuana laws. "The absence of a claim that these dispensaries are operating outside of state law jumps out at me," said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based medical marijuana advocacy group. If the dispensaries were in compliance with state law, Mirken wonders "why on Earth are the San Mateo police involved in a conspiracy to undermine state law? That is truly outrageous." The answer, said San Mateo police Lt. Mike Brunicardi on Thursday, is that the police department has "an obligation to the residents of San Mateo" to assist federal agents if they report illegal operations within the city. But Mirkin contends that a collaboration with federal agents "who believe that the most ethical and humane medical marijuana provider is no different than a common drug dealer" is a bad decision for the community. The right decision, he said, would be for cities like San Mateo and county government to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries "for the good of the patients and the good of the community."  Mayor 'Thrilled' by Raids That sort of progressive thinking stumps some local officials and angers others. While nearly all of the county's supervisors have gone on record defending the use of medical marijuana, the board has yet to enact any ordinances to regulate dispensaries. San Mateo Mayor John Lee said of the raids: "I'm just thrilled to death they did it. We don't need that kind of stuff in our city." Those two attitudes  passive support and outright disdain  have directed public policy regarding medical marijuana in the state. According to Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group, 26 cities and eight counties in California have ordinances allowing and regulating dispensaries. An additional 55 cities and two counties have enacted bans (which advocates maintain are illegal), and 75 cities and six counties have imposed temporary moratoriums. The remainder of the state's 478 incorporated cities and 58 counties, like the city of San Mateo and San Mateo County, have yet to specifically address the issue. Supervisor Rich Gordon said, "I think that in California we have to find a way to resolve how the distribution of medical marijuana can be achieved in a way that doesn't bring the suspicion and allegation of law enforcement that illegal activities are occurring. We need to find a way for people who need access to this medication to get it." Asked whether local officials should take up the mantle of regulation, Gordon replied, "I'm not sure that's the way to go." The complications of creating ordinances for 20 cities and the county would prove too difficult, he said. Supervisor Hill agrees, saying that "the state should regulate, rather than the county." The legal morass of medical marijuana in the county is a "tragedy," Hill said, because the health benefits of medicinal marijuana are proved  and "there should be available places to obtain medical marijuana." There are currently 880 medical marijuana patients who have been issued state identification cards through the county's health department and potentially hundreds more who have obtained an authorized medical marijuana prescription from a physician to treat any number of ailments from attention-deficit disorder to arthritis to terminal illnesses, such as cancer and HIV. Now that the county's three primary medical marijuana dispensaries have been shut down, patients must go elsewhere. "Those who can will drive to San Francisco or Oakland or wherever there are dispensaries," said Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project. "But there will be lots of people who can't do that. And those patients will either do without their medicine that their doctor recommended or buy it from drug dealers on the streets. "How on Earth is either of those outcomes beneficial to the community?" he asked. Asked how the shuttering of the county's medical marijuana dispensaries would affect patients, local officials and law enforcement officers either declined comment or suggested that individuals would just have to travel elsewhere to fill their prescription. One military veteran living in Redwood City is one of the hundreds  potentially thousands  of county residents who will be affected by the raids. Mike wishes to remain anonymous because, under state law, his prescription allows him to grow a handful of marijuana plants to treat his chronic rheumatoid arthritis. He's afraid the federal government will take away the medication which makes his life bearable. He has smoked marijuana for decades. In 1969 his doctor at Kaiser Permanante recommended the drug as a tool to treat his condition. But the medical marijuana laws limit the amount he grows, and he has been forced to supplement his supply from medical marijuana dispensaries. Now he doesn't know what he'll do. "I don't want to drive all over the Bay Area looking for it," he said. "I would rather not have to go through that. I want to be able to know where I can get this stuff when I need it from a safe place  and as convenient as possible would be nice." Asked whether the county  which officially supports medical marijuana but whose law enforcement agencies continue to oppose the medication  has supported medical marijuana users, his reply was succinct. "What has the county done for me?" he said. "In my opinion, the county has done nothing." MediaNews Sacramento Bureau reporter Harrison Sheppard contributed to this story. Note: San Mateo County DA calls in feds after group contests desist order.Source: Oakland Tribune, The (CA)Author: Michael Manekin, Staff WriterPublished: August 31, 2007Copyright: 2007 MediaNews Group, Inc. Contact: triblet angnewspapers.comWebsite: http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Related Articles & Web Site:Marijuana Policy Projecthttp://www.mpp.org/ San Mateo Pot Shops Raidedhttp://cannabisnews.com/news/thread23295.shtml DEA Raids 11 Pot Clubshttp://cannabisnews.com/news/thread22532.shtml
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on September 01, 2007 at 08:39:20 PT
City Calls for Pot Shop Regulation
September 1, 2007http://www.insidebayarea.com/sanmateocountytimes/localnews/ci_6779578
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Comment #6 posted by Roger Christie on September 01, 2007 at 01:43:14 PT:
SICKO by Michael Moore, and ...
Hello friends,Aloha. Have you seen, SICKO, yet, by Michael Moore? It's amazing! Very revealing and sheds much light on the conditions imposed by cut-throat HMO's, politicians, lobbyists, etc. No wonder medical marijuana is not available! I say again that, in my opinion, virtully ALL medical marijuana dispensaries would do best to become ordained as Ministers and provide "medical marijuana" as 'good Samaritans' to the sick and dying. More policymakers and religious leaders might better understand the mission if it's framed in terms that they use.Remember, "The yoke of our bondage shall be broken by the anointing."What anointing? The holy anointing oil of Moses and the christening oil of Jesus made with Cannabis (kaneh bosm). It heals gangrene, among other wonderful qualities. "Jesus Christ = I am anointed."http://thc-ministry.org/thelivingtorah.jpg http://thc-ministry.org/jesus.htmHere's some recent news from the THC Ministry that's evidence for what I'm saying about State and Federal Constitutional protections for Religious use of the holy herb.http://thenaughtyamerican.com/News/175.htmlAll the very best to you and yours,Roger Christie, FounderTHC Ministry(808) 217-9352   
The Hawai'i Cannabis (THC) Ministry
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on August 31, 2007 at 10:57:24 PT
Press Release from MPP
Medical Marijuana Ad Campaign Urges New York State Senators to Protect PatientsAugust 31, 2007http://www.mpp.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=glKZLeMQIsG&b=1157875&ct=4348655
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on August 31, 2007 at 10:40:48 PT
Sam
You said: Instead, I'm living in society where freedom is usually down at the very bottom of the priority list. How sad. We've got towns that hire someone to drive around and fine people who haven't mowed their lawn. Can you imagine? To me that's even more frightening than the drug war. Why does that bother you? 
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Comment #3 posted by user123 on August 31, 2007 at 10:27:14 PT:
The System is Broke, Just like their Morals
"Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe considered the letter, reflected on the state's ambiguous legal definition of medical marijuana dispensaries, and made a decision."..........and why did he make that decision? Because fighting real crime is hard! The answer, said San Mateo police Lt. Mike Brunicardi on Thursday, is that the police department has "an obligation to the residents of San Mateo" to assist federal agents if they report illegal operations within the city. Uhhhh.......no you don't. You don't have to uphold Federal law, only state law. But lucky them, now they only need one resident to complain, & they can call in the Fed's. Some of these idiots should look up the meaning of Democracy. 
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Comment #2 posted by sam adams on August 31, 2007 at 07:55:22 PT
my world
"We could have sat here and spent a great deal of taxpayer money in San Mateo County, prosecuting it and going through the appeals, or we could bring the case to the attention of the federal government," Wagstaffe said.In my world, a mob would quickly form after reading this, go to his house, seize him, and send him off to Gitmo for a few years. Why? Because he violated FREEDOM. In my world, freedom would be the most sacred and holy and important thing to all people. Any attempt to override someone's personal freedom when they're not hurting anyone else would be met with severe punishment and physical exile. Instead, I'm living in society where freedom is usually down at the very bottom of the priority list.  How sad. We've got towns that hire someone to drive around and fine people who haven't mowed their lawn.  Can you imagine? To me that's even more frightening than the drug war. At the personal level, it doesn't seem unusual to most of us to have the government or corporations totally control your life.I think this struggle over the MJ laws is a HUGE bellwether as to whether there's ANY chance of freedom left in the USA or not. In 10 or 20 years, we'll either have reformed MJ laws and the hope of truly free society will be thriving. Or, the MJ laws will be forever enshrined and the darkness of a total police state will descend on the USA.
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Comment #1 posted by dongenero on August 31, 2007 at 07:16:48 PT
stinks like corruption
Maybe the cooperative was not passing the expected money under the table to these officials so they dropped the hammer. With the disconnect between State and Fed, the situation is ripe for Govt. corruption, and this one smells like it.And the Mayor? Isn't that nice? San Mateo Mayor John Lee said of the raids: "I'm just THRILLED TO DEATH they did it.Ah well, we can always hope Mr. Mayor! It would save having to put you on the ballot for next term just to vote you out. At least you aren't thrilled to terminal illness or thrilled to chronic pain, or thrilled to MS, or thrilled to Glaucoma. Then you might require medical marijuana as well. What a buffoon!
 
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