Bitter fight over sweet pot treats Drug agents fear candies appeal to kids -- medical marijuana users insist they're legal
March 17, 2006
Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle
They had colorful labels and names such as Trippy, Stoney Rancher, Toka-Cola, Pot Tart and Budtella.
To federal drug agents, they were dangerous marijuana-laced concoctions that could fall into the hands of children. But to sick patients who rely on cannabis to ease their symptoms, they were just tasty ways to get their medicine -- and legal under California law.
Federal agents who converged on several of what they called "marijuana candy factories" in the East Bay on Thursday seized hundreds of sodas and candies laced with marijuana in what they said was the largest bust of its kind on the West Coast.
Authorities say the drug is illegal no matter what form it takes, especially marijuana candy products that mimic mainstream candies and are attractive to youths.
But angry medical-marijuana patients said Friday that investigators are blowing smoke and that the raids in Oakland and Emeryville on Thursday are just the latest proof that federal investigators are running roughshod over local and state laws that allow for medicinal cannabis use.
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, which allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation. Despite the law, authorities -- from the California Highway Patrol to the Drug Enforcement Administration -- have pounced on local marijuana-growing operations in the Bay Area, including locations in San Francisco and Sonoma County in December.
The candy-factory raids are the latest crackdown.
"I think the government is once again trying to create terror through our community," said Angel Raich, 40, of Oakland, who uses the drug to treat pain, nausea and seizures associated with a brain tumor and a wasting syndrome. "I do know for a fact that medical-cannabis candy and those kinds of products are in the dispensaries, and patients do use them."
Rick Steeb, 55, of San Jose, who uses marijuana to treat the pain from glaucoma, said he's "never seen (the candy) outside the dispensaries. It's not like they were being sold in convenience stores."
But Special Agent Casey McEnry, spokeswoman for the DEA, the agency that conducted this week's raids, said Friday that marijuana "is a violation of federal law in this form and in the smoked form. Even though there may be claims that these weren't meant for kids, the packaging may suggest otherwise."
The alleged ringleader, Kenneth Affolter, 39, of Lafayette, six other men and five women appeared Friday before U.S. Magistrate Bernard Zimmerman in San Francisco and were ordered held without bail pending a hearing next week.
Affolter, whose nickname is "Kena," operated Beyond Bomb, a manufacturer of the marijuana treats, from adjoining warehouses at 1055 and 1071 Yerba Buena Ave. and 3960 Adeline St. in Emeryville, DEA Special Agent William Armstrong wrote in an affidavit unsealed Friday.
Investigators learned that a $3,913 PG&E balance for a month's period covered all three locations and was billed to Affolter, Armstrong wrote.
Affolter is listed as president of Clear Soap, which is under suspension for failing to pay state taxes, DEA Special Agent Jason Chin wrote in an affidavit. Affolter told Oakland police officers who responded to a silent alarm at one of the Yerba Buena warehouses last month that "he made soaps and candles," agents wrote.
Marijuana candies have been around for at least five years, cannabis users say. But raids of these products only began recently.
In May, police seized Beyond Bomb products from Compassionate Caregivers, a medical-marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. In July, DEA agents seized Beyond Bomb candies from a San Lorenzo home.
Oakland's Compassionate Caregivers Club at 1740 Telegraph Ave., which Affolter used as a marijuana-cultivation site, was also searched as part of this week's raids, which netted up to 5,000 marijuana plants and $150,000 in cash, authorities said.
At the Telegraph Avenue site, agents found more than 100 marijuana plants, authorities said. Growers there wore identical gray, short-sleeve collared shirts and white lab coats, Armstrong wrote.
Employees also meticulously tracked their work hours on time cards, affidavits said.
Affolter's attorney, Robert Byers of Oakland, said Friday that it was unfair for authorities to claim that children could end up eating Beyond Bomb's creations.
"They know it's not marketed for kids," Byers said. "They're only seen in the context of people who use medical marijuana. A sweet, nice-tasting product is certainly going to benefit them."