Pot Raids Spur Calls to Quit Working With DEA

November 20, 2002

Eric Bailey, LA Times,

SACRAMENTO -- Reacting to raids of California medical marijuana cooperatives by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, several cities around the state are pushing local police to stop cooperating with federal agents. The City Council of Sebastopol became the latest to approve a resolution supporting California's medical marijuana law and asking that the municipal police force avoid working with the DEA. Sebastopol's vote Tuesday night is expected to be followed in a few weeks by similar action in neighboring Santa Rosa. Earlier this year, city leaders in Berkeley and San Francisco approved anti-DEA resolutions. In San Jose, Police Chief William Lansdowne in October pulled his officers from a DEA task force, citing a 'clear conflict between federal and state law' and saying methamphetamine was a far greater problem than marijuana. Santa Cruz council members, meanwhile, in September invited leaders of a busted medical pot cooperative to distribute marijuana as medicine from the front steps of City Hall. Such efforts have been almost entirely symbolic, and each of those cities was among the most proactive in the state to enact Proposition 215, California's landmark 1996 medical marijuana measure. Though it won voter approval, Proposition 215 created a legal quandary for police and the courts because the medical pot measure conflicts with federal law declaring marijuana illegal for any purpose. In addition, the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis have for several years balked at attempts by medical marijuana activists to push through bills to create statewide standards for cannabis patients. Backed by a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, federal drug agents have stepped in during the past year to raid several medical marijuana dispensaries that enjoyed good working relationships with local political leaders and police. Among the busts were the closure of the Los Angeles Cannabis Cooperative last year and raids of several San Francisco pot clubs as DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson visited the Bay Area earlier this year. The DEA also has started to set its sights lower, arresting a medical marijuana activist in San Diego who was cultivating 25 plants. Traditionally, federal agents have focused exclusively on major drug traffickers. California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has called the recent raids 'punitive expeditions' that are an affront to the will of California's electorate. Sebastopol's move comes a few months after the DEA raided a large medical marijuana operation in a residential area just outside city limits after it became a nightmare for neighbors. Councilman Larry Robinson said that raid and the bust of the respected Santa Cruz cooperative prodded the City Council to act. 'This is mostly a statement of our support for California's right to set its own laws instead of having those preempted by the federal government,' said Robinson, who joined with the majority in the 3-1 vote. 'We just want to add our voice to the opposition.' Robinson said Sebastopol Police Chief Gordon Pitter has vowed that his officers, who rarely work with the DEA anyway, will uphold the will of the council. But some medical marijuana activists warn that there are no guarantees. Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said activists will meet with Lockyer aides soon to complain about five police officers from Bay Area cities -- including San Francisco -- who have been 'cooperating notoriously' with the DEA. 'When a city passes a resolution, it doesn't mean anything really,' Gieringer said. 'Police do what they damn well please.'

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