Medi-pot activists are mad as hell

December 13, 2005

David Rolland, San Diego City Beat


Already steaming mad about the county Board of Supervisors’ decision to sue the state in federal court to overturn the law that allows sick people to use marijuana as medicine, activists who gathered in University Heights Monday night were furious about the raids on pot dispensaries that occurred earlier in the day—and vowing not to back down in the face of what they called federal law-enforcement intimidation.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration on Monday led a multi-agency assault on 13 dispensaries in San Diego County, handcuffing whomever was inside the shops and confiscating products, computers and patient records.

Tony Amarine, 32, who runs Utopia, an Ocean Beach dispensary, said the aggressive manner in which heavily armed agents came bursting into his shop made him feel like they must have thought it was al-Qaeda’s headquarters: “Guns to my forehead, handcuffed, down on the ground.” He pulled up a pant leg and revealed a bloody scrape he said he suffered when manhandled. A DEA spokesman didn’t return CityBeat’s call.

Eight to 10 agents raided Utopia, Amarine estimated. Once the place was secured, he said, one agent opened an envelope and began to read its contents, a list of things they were searching for—“about a thousand things,” he said, adding that they left after three or four hours.

“All I do is sell weed to sick people,” Amarine said, vowing to open again on Tuesday and then sue the federal government.

Utopia serves 2,000 to 3,000 patients, he said, including 150 who are terminally ill. “They’re scared,” he said. “They’re not going to get medicine. They’re gonna go back to the streets… or they’re going to go without.”

“Anne,” a 45-year-old patient who declined to give her real name, said she favors pot over prescription drugs for the fibromyalgia she suffers from. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons and affects mostly women. In addition to relieving some of the pain, marijuana relaxes her muscles, eases her anxiety and helps her sleep.

If she can’t get pot at a dispensary, Anne said, “I’ll exhaust my existing resources [and then] I’ll buy it back on the streets. That’s what Prop. 215 was trying to eliminate.”

Prop. 215’s intent lay at the heart of the San Diego Police Department’s decision to take part in Monday’s raids. Assistant Police Chief Cheryl Meyers told CityBeat Tuesday that had the raids been only a product of the federal government’s attitude that medicinal marijuana is just as illegal as recreational marijuana, San Diego Police would not have participated.

However, Meyers said, “we were convinced; the evidence was there” that each of the 13 locations raided were acting outside the boundaries of Prop. 215 and the city’s medical-marijuana guidelines. She said state and city laws do not allow for caregivers, which is what the dispensaries are supposed to be, to make a profit. “They’re jacking up the prices so steep [that] they’re making a profit off of the illness” of their patients, “and they were very loose in who they sold the marijuana to.” She added that in most cases, the dispensaries had more pot on hand than city law allows. The guidelines allow caregivers to have two pounds of pot and 48 plants. Most dispensaries had more, she said. One had psychedelic mushrooms; several had hash (although, she acknowledged that the police are struggling with whether or not hash—concentrated THC, the active ingredient in pot—is allowed.

Of particular concern, Meyers said, was the fellow police officers found out in a Loma Portal dispensary parking lot who had two pounds of pot, $2,600 in cash and a firearm on him, and another guy coming into a Kearny Mesa dispensary with two pounds of pot who said he’d picked the stuff up in Palm Springs and had heard he could unload it at the dispensary for $3,000 and an $800 profit. That’s the sort of activity Meyers said San Diego doesn’t want or need. Both men were arrested.

As for the patients who count on dispensaries, Meyers said, “they’ll have to find a caregiver that fits within the guidelines of Prop. 215.”

In University Heights Monday evening, activist Dion Markgraaff, coordinator for the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, an organization that advocates on behalf of patients wanting to smoke pot to alleviate symptoms, helped organize the crowd of several dozen people at Twiggs coffeehouse. “I regard [the raids] as a political tactic used often by the U.S. government: low-intensity warfare,” he said.

Markgraaff urged the crowd to gather downtown the next day to protest the government’s actions: “This day is going to live in history in this town, and we have to make the most of it.”

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