DEA raids East Bay medical pot distributor
March 16, 2006
Karl Fischer, Contra Costa Times
Federal agents raided three warehouses and what they described as a "candy factory" Thursday morning, seizing hundreds of boxes of sweets and soft drinks spiked with THC, the compound that gives marijuana its potency.
The raids, which included the Lafayette home of the business owner, shut down the largest distributor of medicinal marijuana snacks in the western states, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials said.
"There were hundreds of marijuana-laced candies and soda pops," said Lawrence Mendosa, assistant special agent in charge at the agency's Oakland office. "The packaging closely resembles that of brands produced by the manufacturers" of non THC-laden snack foods.
Witness Toka-Cola, Buddafinger, Stoney Rancher, Munchy Way and Bong's Root Beer. Mendosa picked up a shiny foil wrapper containing a blueberry "Pot-Tart" and read from its label.
"Dosage: One pastry," Mendosa said. "Do not exceed four pastries during one 24-hour period."
Most of the packaging included nutritional information, ingredients and indicated the potency of the drug in the food. Labeled as medicinal marijuana products, these items were marketed to dispensaries and medical marijuana users by the company "Beyond Bomb," said Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Peña.
Buzz Fowler, who runs a medical marijuana delivery business in West Contra Costa County, said he was not familiar with "Beyond Bomb" products, but the genre is familiar to anyone who uses local marijuana dispensaries.
"(Packaged food products) have been on the market for about five years," Fowler said. "It's just another way that people who need medical marijuana but can't smoke it ... can still use it."
While state law permits use of marijuana to treat specific medical ailments, federal law does not.
Federal law permits the DEA to take action against any marijuana grower, regardless of state law. Federal authorities generally target large operations, and the volume of sales and the sophisticated marketing made "Beyond Bomb" conspicuous.
"We've seen a few products like this, but nothing of this magnitude," Mendosa said.
The DEA learned about the operation and began investigating the business dealings of 39-year-old Lafayette resident Kenneth Affolter last October, Mendosa said. They arrested him and 11 others on suspicion of drug trafficking Thursday. All the suspects were booked into Alameda County Jail in Oakland.
The suspects were scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in San Francisco today.
The others arrested with Affolter were employees or associates, agents said. More than 70 agents participated in the raids of three warehouses that each were full of several thousand marijuana plants, and another on the 1700 block of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. They also raided Affolter's home.
At one of the Emeryville facilities, on Yerba Buena Avenue, authorities found an extensive production facility for extracting THC from the plants, and for cooking and packaging the candy and soda.
"At one of the grow locations there was a time clock, like where workers could punch in and out," Special Agent Casey McEnry said. "And there were uniforms ... blue shirts and white lab coats hanging up there."
Authorities also found more than $150,000 in cash, two semi-automatic weapons and a revolver during the raids. Agents would not offer estimates Thursday about how much marijuana or marijuana products were seized, nor their dollar value.
"People need to be aware of it," Peña said. "They need to know that they should look a little more closely if they see some shiny candy wrappers in their kids' backpacks."