Protesters target DEA offices over medical pot crackdown

June 06, 2002

Josh Richman - Staff Writer, Oakland Tribune,

OAKLAND -- In a scene echoed in cities from coast to coast, more than 100 protesters decrying a federal crackdown on medical marijuana forced the city's federal office building to close most of its doors Thursday.

The protesters tried to deliver "cease and desist" orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration's office, commanding the DEA to stop raiding medical marijuana clubs, as it has in Los Angeles last October, in San Francisco this February and in Santa Rosa last week.

DEA offices in the latter two cities were besieged Thursday too, each attracting about 150 protesters. An unknown number of protesters went
to the San Jose DEA office. Seven San Francisco protesters were cited for failure to disperse and released.

The DEA said it was unfazed.

"It is the right of all American citizens to demonstrate peacefully in support of their beliefs," said Special Agent Richard Meyer, the agency's Bay Area spokesman. "As far as we are concerned, federal law remains the same and our mission has not changed."

But Oakland protesters said forcing Federal Protective Service officers to seal most of the building's entrances was a moral victory, and they promised that any DEA raids from now on will be met with coordinated grass-roots resistance and civil disobedience.

"You keep closing doors on us, we're going to close doors on you," longtime medical marijuana activist Debbie Goldsberry of Berkeley vowed through a loudspeaker. "We're not going to tolerate zero tolerance anymore."

California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996 to legalize medical marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation. Federal authorities insist the drug remains illegal for all purposes under the Controlled Substances Act.

"The people of California have spoken, and it's outrageous for the federal government to continue to undermine our democratic process," Oakland City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel told Oakland protesters Thursday, pledging her support.

Protesters, some wearing wreaths of fake marijuana leaves, hoisted picket signs with slogans such as "I'm a patient, not a criminal" and "DEA go away." They cheered as passing vehicles -- including an AC Transit bus and a City of Oakland van -- honked in encouragement.

Don Duncan of Americans for Safe Access, which organized the nationwide protest, led a few protesters to the federal building's other side, where government workers were filing through a single door under uniformed officers' watchful eyes. Duncan and his party were denied entry.

"The building is closed to the public," an officer said. "There's nobody here from DEA who can see you today. It's open to employees only."

Duncan immediately dialed the Oakland DEA office on his cell phone, asking either to be allowed upstairs or for someone to come down and accept the "cease and desist" orders he was trying to "serve." He was put on hold several times, and eventually they hung up on him.

Upon returning to the rally, Duncan urged the protesters to monitor news reports carefully for future DEA raids, and if there is one, to rush to the site to protest and bear witness. There will be a protest outside the federal building at noon on the day after any local raid, he said. "The federal government is hereby on notice: We will not tolerate any more raids in California."

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