Just a week after the US House of Representatives voted to continue funding Justice Department raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, the feds struck again.
Five people have been arrested in a series of DEA and local police raids Thursday hitting 13 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County.
Some people are being charged under state marijuana distribution laws in the cooperative federal-local effort. More arrests are expected, local law enforcement officials said.
The raids and arrests came as federal officials unsealed two indictments, one charging the Purple Bud Room and Tender Holistics Care dispensaries with illegally distributing marijuana, the other laying similar charges against five people who owned and operated Co-op San Diego.
The feds also went after four doctors on suspicion of providing medical marijuana recommendations for people the officials claimed did not legitimately need marijuana. State and federal officials have filed complaints with the state Medical Board against the doctors.
The San Diego District Attorney's Office announced it was filing marijuana distribution charges against five dispensaries: Ocean Beach Dispensary and Utopia, both on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach; Native Sun Dispensary on Rosecrans Street, in the Midway District; THC Dispensary, no longer in business, in Pacific Beach; and the California Medical Center, on La Jolla Boulevard in La Jolla.
In a statement announcing the busts, the DA's Office said it was not aiming at medical marijuana patients, but at retail pot outlets disguised as dispensaries.
"Our office has no intention of stopping those who are chronically ill with AIDS, glaucoma and cancer from obtaining any legally prescribed drug, including medical marijuana, to help them ease their pain," said DA Bonnie Dumanis said.
But the state's medical marijuana law is "being severely abused and it has led to the neighborhood pot dealer opening up storefronts from La Jolla to Ocean Beach to North Park," she said.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana defense group, announced in an e-mail Thursday afternoon it was holding an emergency meeting in San Diego that evening to craft a response.
July 8, 2006 - San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Activists Protest Medical Marijuana Raids And Arrests
By Jeff McDonald, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
The dragnet that was dropped over San Diego County medical marijuana dispensaries Thursday has prompted deepening concern among patients who rely on the plant to relieve their symptoms.
Most of the dispensaries targeted by the drug task force stayed closed yesterday, but some were open despite a terse warning from officials that they might be next.
Dozens of medical marijuana activists protested yesterday outside the federal courthouse, where one day earlier local and federal law enforcement leaders announced the results of a raid on area pot dispensaries.
Fifteen people were arrested on various state and federal charges after an 18-month investigation into the dispensaries, which are legal under state law but remain forbidden under federal drug rules.
California's landmark 1996 medical marijuana law allows patients to grow and use marijuana, but a follow-up bill that tried to clarify the legislation does not fully spell out guidelines on the commercial sale of the drug.
The resulting confusion has left patients and local officials in a lurch.
"How can you bust people for breaking the law when there are no rules?" wondered Dion Markgraaff, a medical marijuana advocate who helped organize the demonstration. "That's what everybody wants regulation."
Motorists driving by the protest along Broadway honked in apparent support of the protesters, who stayed at the corner for nearly an hour before marching to the Hall of Justice.
They hoped to meet with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who vowed at a news conference Thursday to continue raiding dispensaries if they do not shut down.
Courthouse security teams refused to allow all the protesters to enter the building, permitting only a handful of them to drop off a letter to Dumanis.
The rejection did not sit well with Richard Hertz, a medical marijuana advocate from Clairemont who was among those left outside. "Our local officials aren't following state law or the will of the people," he said.
The letter to Dumanis urged her to develop local rules governing pot dispensaries so patients would have reliable and safe access to their pain-relieving medicine.
Dumanis was out of her office yesterday but had an aide read her the letter by telephone before issuing this response: "Legitimate patients and/or their real care providers can grow reasonable amounts of marijuana as prescribed by actual treating physicians. That's not what's happening here."
Dumanis was unavailable for follow-up questions.
Medical marijuana activist Rudy Reyes, who suffered severe burns across his face and body in the Cedar fire, wants to know what options exist for patients like him if they are unable to grow plants on their own or buy pot from dispensaries.
"There are no guidelines for the county," he said outside the federal courthouse. "What am I supposed to do?"
In an unrelated development yesterday, three advocacy groups petitioned a state court to intervene in a lawsuit brought by San Diego County that seeks to overturn California's medical marijuana laws.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.