Medical marijuana raid affects San Marcos business

December 22, 2005

Jo Moreland, North County Times

As federal agents continued to sort out evidence seized last week in raids at 13 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County, an employee at a San Marcos outlet said Thursday that business has dropped.

"They pretty much took everything that they could take," the young man said.

On a good day before the Dec. 12 raids, he said, there used to be 25 patients at the Legal Ease Inc. office at 323 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road.

He declined to give his name or say how many patients no longer come to the small strip mall office with the dirty blue carpet, eclectic furnishings and lingering odor.

The San Marcos dispensary was the only one in North County hit by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents and state and local officers.

The other 12 places were in San Diego, including the Legal Ease headquarters in Normal Heights. An employee at that office said by phone that the business wouldn't be giving out any information and no spokesperson was available.

The home of a dispensary owner was also searched, but no one has been arrested in the continuing investigation, said Special Agent Misha Piastro, DEA spokesman.

"We're still in the process of analyzing the evidence that was seized to see what laws have been violated, if any, and by whom," Piastro said. "We have not filed any charges yet."

He said the raids were conducted after undercover agents were able to buy marijuana without prescriptions, doctor's recommendations "or medical necessity of any kind" at some of the places.

Marijuana and small amounts of so-called "magic mushrooms" and hashish were seized, in addition to documents, Piastro said. He said dispensary prices were sometimes three times higher than marijuana on the streets.

Stephen Blehm, of San Marcos, said he was concerned about whether he would still be able to get marijuana for treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It was caused by exposure to something in Alaska while he was in the Navy, Blehm said.

"It helps me to sleep, eat," he said about marijuana. "It just calms me down. What bothers me is, where's my patient records?"

Piastro said he didn't know whether patient records were seized in the raids, which triggered protests the next day at federal buildings in San Diego and 15 cities across the nation, including Riverside; Washington, D.C.; Dallas and Salt Lake City.

Patients fear that federal raids will jeopardize access to legal marijuana, forcing them to go without that relief or into buying on the black market, said Karen Woodson, campaign director for Americans for Safe Access, a national coalition that advocates legal availability of medical marijuana.

"Some (San Diego) clubs remain closed," Woodson said. "It was a pretty substantial hit on San Diego."

She said the raids are part of the largest federal crackdown under way now in California, where in 1996 voters passed Proposition 215 allowing medical use of marijuana for chronically or seriously ill people.

That state law doesn't allow people to deal drugs disguised as a medical dispensary, and agents are continuing to enforce federal law against marijuana trafficking, Piastro said.

Contact staff writer Jo Moreland at (760) 740-3524 or jmoreland@nctimes.com.



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