Medical marijuana provider raided

December 20, 2005

Bonnie Eslinger and Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Examiner

Federal Drug Enforcement Agents raided a South of Market warehouse, a medical marijuana club and the home of the club’s owners on Tuesday, altogether seizing more than 600 marijuana plants.

Catherine and Steve Smith, proprietors of Hopenet, a medical marijuana club on Ninth Street, said about a dozen DEA agents with a warrant woke them up at 6:30 a.m. at their home in the 200 block of Clara Street and seized, among other items, $20,000 in cash, growing lights, photos, tax documents, utility bills, cell phones and 122 marijuana plants, which they said are used for sick patients who patronize their medical marijuana dispensary.

“I realize they say this is illegal federally, but it’s legal here in California and we’ve had the blessings of The City,” Catherine Smith said. “I believe this is a test to see if the community as a result will stand up to them [federal law enforcement].”

Nine years ago, state voters passed Proposition 215, which approved of marijuana use for patients who have a doctor’s recommendation. Pot clubs have sprouted across the state as a result. Last month, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors established rules for The City’s 33 dispensaries that outlined where clubs can operate and how much marijuana a patient could buy.

Nonetheless, in June the U.S. Supreme Court said California’s law doesn’t supersede federal law, a ruling that seemed to open the door for federal prosecution of the state’s medical marijuana users.

Supervisor Ross Mirkirimi, who authored San Francisco’s medical marijuana club legislation, said that because use of the drug is still considered a federal offense, medical marijuana users and supporters will “always be looking over our shoulders.”

“That’s why, federally, we need to reform the marijuana laws and decriminalize it,” Mirkirimi said.

DEA spokeswoman Casey McEnry said the raids in San Francisco and a related raid in Sonoma County, in which agents found 200 plants, followed a two-year investigation based on a tip received via an anonymous letter.

The biggest stash of plants — 500 — was found in a raid early Tuesday evening at a warehouse on Clara Street, not far from the Smiths’ home, McEnry said. Hopenet was also raided but no plants were found, only marijuana-baked goods.

McEnry said the early morning raid led the federal officers to the pot club and that although the Smiths were not arrested, future enforcement action was still possible.

“According to federal law, marijuana is a crime,” she said.

Earlier in the afternoon, after the first raid, the Smiths and other medical marijuana advocates rallied in front of the pot club, holding up signs and chanting “DEA out of California,” and “compassion not harassment.” About a dozen San Francisco police officers were on hand, but only for crowd-control purposes, a department spokesperson said.

San Francisco resident Richard Derus, who bought the residential property next door to Hopenet a few months ago, said while he agreed with medical marijuana in concept, he’s been concerned with loitering around the club and would like to see stricter regulation for who gets the medical marijuana cards that prove they have a doctor’s recommendation.

“Three-quarters of my residents have cards and none of them is sick,” Derus said.

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