Fear Of Pot Club Raids Arises in SF

June 06, 2005

Justin Jouvenal, San Francisco Examiner

A wave of fear rippled through San Francisco's medical marijuana community Monday as some activists, doctors and politicians said they feared the U.S. Supreme Court ruling might open the door to a new round of federal raids on The City's pot clubs, push them further underground and stymie an attempt to regulate them. 'This case was one of the reasons there was less of a crackdown on medical marijuana.  Now that this case has been decided, The Bush administration may feel it needs to show California who's boss,' said Steve Fox, a director for the Medical Marijuana Policy Project.

But medical marijuana advocates and state officials also emphasized the ruling does nothing to change the status quo in the debate: medical marijuana will remain illegal under federal law, but stay legal under state law.  The legal risks of using medical marijuana remain the same.

'The law all stays as it is.  What's different is that if the federal government wants to begin enforcing the law it is up to them,' said Kevin Zeese, an attorney and president of the pro-medical marijuana group Common Sense for Drug Policy.  'The bigger risk is the medical marijuana-based dispensaries.  They were on challenging legal ground and now it's even more so.'

The Bush administration has vigorously opposed medical marijuana and activists said Monday's decision could embolden it to crackdown on The City's clubs.  Such raids had tailed off recently after a string of high-profile busts in 2002.  Those led to the arrest of numerous club owners and patients.

The U.S.  Department of Justice did not return calls, but spokesman John Nowacki stated he would not comment on whether the department would prosecute individual users.  Local officials, who prosecute all but about 1 percent of marijuana possession and distribution cases, would still have to follow state law protecting patients.

Or as state Attorney General Bill Lockyer put in a statement: 'State and federal laws are no different today than they were yesterday.'

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a medical marijuana advocate, said Monday's ruling could nix legislation he is working on to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana and make it more difficult for patients to get medical marijuana.

The City has placed a six-month moratorium on opening new pot clubs as Mirkarimi and other supervisors discuss how to regulate where clubs should go, ensure they are operating legitimately and meet health regulations.  The City's 43 dispensaries currently face few restrictions on location, operation or the quality of marijuana.

Meanwhile, the number of registered medical marijuana users has jumped from about 2,200 in 2002 to more than 7,000 today, according to the San Francisco Department of Health.

Mirkarimi said the ruling might prevent City Attorney Dennis Herrera from signing off on any legislation Z a necessary step for approval.

Herrera said in a statement he is working with city government 'to determine if and to what extent there is any room left for local regulation' of medical marijuana in accordance with the state law. 


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