DEA raids medical marijuana store

April 18, 2006

Elizabeth Hume, Sacramento Bee

For the first time in Sacramento, federal agents conducted a search of a medical marijuana store Wednesday morning.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents served a search warrant at the store at 2020 16th St. at about 9:30 a.m. Federal officers also served two other warrants at the homes of the store owners, one in Citrus Heights and one in North Highlands, said Gordon Taylor, assistant special agent in charge of the Sacramento DEA office.

A small sign on the glass door identifies the store as Awakenings: Books, Stones and More.

Ryan Landers, a medical marijuana activist, said the DEA agents came in with guns drawn and forced the three people inside down on the ground, pointing shotguns to their heads. The agents searched the shop and seized computers, cannibis, pipes, scales and patient records, Landers said.

"Now it's a waiting game to see if they file charges," said Landers, wearing a black t-shirt with the word "voter" inscribed in bold white letters.

Shop owner Jenelle Daffron arrived at the 16th Street storefront shortly after noon, still in the red pajamas she was wearing when DEA agents burst into her home Wednesday morning. Daffron said she was shaken and not ready to comment.

"It's all like a blur," she said.

No arrests had been made by Wednesday afternoon.

Agents seized $48,700 in cash, said Taylor, adding several firearms were found at the residences searched.

"Many of these operators will say they're just concerned about the seriously or terminally ill, but their true agenda is to line their pockets with drug money," Taylor said.

Inside the Lynn Beauty Salon next door, owner Lynn Luong said she was surprised to learn marijuana was sold at the shop.

"I had no idea," she said. "Every time I asked them, they said it was a book store."

City Councilman Robbie Waters said he became aware of the store about a year ago when neighbors alerted him. Waters contacted the DEA, suspecting the owners might be selling marijuana, the councilman said.

"There were numerous complaints from the neighbors. I'm glad to see that they were able to successfully execute their search warrant this morning," Waters said.

As word spread of the raid, about 10 medical rights activists showed up with signs in protest, chanting "DEA, go away!"

Nathan Sands, chairman of the Compassionate Coalition, said the DEA's efforts against medical marijuana stores was "harassment."

"As far as we know, they (the store owners) are here for the patients and operating a clean operation," Sands said.

He said he had purchased marijuana there to treat his chronic nausea. He has been using medical marijuana for three years.

"I've tried a lot of different things; most of them didn't work," he said.

Sands said there are about a half-dozen medical marijuana stores in Sacramento County, and another half-dozen delivery services.

As DEA agents finished their work inside the store, protesters grew more angry. At one point, one protester lit a water pipe filled with tobacco, taunting the officers inside.

Medical marijuana is legal in California under Proposition 215, a 1996 initiative permitting the use of cannibis for medical treatment. Under federal law, marijuana is illegal. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said state laws do not trump the federal government's authority to prosecute marijuana users.

The 16th Street search was the third DEA operation at a cannibis dispensary in the Sacramento region since the court's June ruling. Federal agents seized over 1,000 plants at Alternative Specialties in Rancho Cordova last July. The owner, Louis Wayne Fowler, was indicted in federal court on three counts involving selling marijuana, firearms, and being a felon in possession of firearms.

A federal grand jury in January indicted Richard James Marino, operator of Capital Compassionate Care in Roseville, of drug and money laundering charges. The indictment alleges Marino made about $2.75 million in the eight months his store was open from January 2004 to early September.

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