Curious timing of Bay area marijuana raids

June 23, 2005

EDITORIAL, Orange County Register

A spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in San Francisco told us that the raids conducted on three medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco Wednesday were not connected to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave the DEA a green light, under federal law, to go after patients and the people who supply them, even in states like California that have passed medical marijuana laws.

The investigation behind the raid had been ongoing for two years, the dispensaries were distributing other drugs besides marijuana, and were distributing marijuana for recreational use as well as medical purposes, the DEA maintains. Money laundering and international connections were also allegedly involved.

The feds say that these were more than dispensaries operating within California law. The fact that state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who supports the California law, allowed some of his agents to participate in the raids lends credence to the claim.

We hope the DEA is right that these raids were not narrowly targeted at medical-marijuana patients. Although the high court, perhaps reluctantly, asserted that the 1970 Controlled Substances Act gives federal agents the power to arrest anybody who simply possesses marijuana, going after patients doing what California law gives them the right to do would be terrible public policy. And it's an open question whether any Northern California jury would convict a medical marijuana patient or somebody who supplies the drug strictly to those with a physician's recommendation.

Whether the timing was strictly coincidental or not, Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in San Francisco, told us that 'people are nervous. If the idea was to worry or intimidate people,' he said after attending a rally at city hall, 'it was successful.'

If Wednesday's raids were a precursor to broader raids on patients and caregivers, they will create many more problems than they solve. For starters, San Francisco would like to adopt regulations that supervise cannabis dispensaries and keep the drugs out of the black market. City officials worry, however, that records required to show a dispensary was on the up-and-up under California law could become evidence in a federal case.

Furthermore, if the feds do succeed, through prosecution and intimidation, in closing most California dispensaries, patients will be forced more pervasively into the black market. That would almost surely make enforcement of laws against recreational use more complicated rather than easier.



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