Authorities raid 13 San Diego area marijuana dispensaries

December 11, 2005

Associated Press, Mercury News

Federal drug agents raided 13 San Diego-area marijuana dispensaries on Monday, seizing large quantities of the drug, computers and records in one of the largest crackdowns of its kind in California.

Authorities executed warrants at 11 dispensaries in San Diego and two in the northern suburb of San Marcos as well as the home of one of the shops' owners, said John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"These were nothing more than a front for distributing marijuana," Fernandes said.

One man, armed with a firearm, was arrested as he drove up to a dispensary with two pounds of marijuana he was trying to sell - apparently unaware of the raid taking place. Agents seized a large, but unspecified amount, of marijuana along with small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms, hashish and hashish oil.

Steph Sherer of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access called the raids outrageous and a cowardly act of an administration that was out of touch with voters. Medical marijuana advocates planned to protest the raids Tuesday outside San Diego's federal courthouse.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which decriminalized the use of medical marijuana under state law. However, under federal law, it is illegal to use marijuana even for medical purposes.

Authorities began investigating San Diego's dispensaries six months ago, prompted, in part, by complaints from neighbors. Instead of providing marijuana to seriously ill patients as voters had intended, dispensaries that were raided Monday sold marijuana to young adults, Fernandes said. The combination of drugs and cash also has attracted armed robbers, he said.

"The message here is to essentially notify the community through our actions that these dispensaries posed a severe public hazard," Fernandes said.

DEA agents treated the dispensaries as they would any other criminal narcotics operation, seizing computers and other records to get an inside picture of how the dispensaries operated, where they obtained their marijuana and how profits were distributed, he said.

Last month, San Diego County became the first county in California to defy a state-ordered medical marijuana identification card and registry program. County supervisors ignored a warning from their own attorneys that the action would lead to costly litigation.

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