Activists protest medical marijuana raids and arrests

July 07, 2006

Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union Tribune

The dragnet that was dropped over San Diego County medical marijuana dispensaries Thursday has prompted deepening concern among patients who rely on the plant to relieve their symptoms.

Most of the dispensaries targeted by the drug task force stayed closed yesterday, but some were open despite a terse warning from officials that they might be next.

Dozens of medical marijuana activists protested yesterday outside the federal courthouse, where one day earlier local and federal law enforcement leaders announced the results of a raid on area pot dispensaries.

Fifteen people were arrested on various state and federal charges after an 18-month investigation into the dispensaries, which are legal under state law but remain forbidden under federal drug rules.

California's landmark 1996 medical marijuana law allows patients to grow and use marijuana, but a follow-up bill that tried to clarify the legislation does not fully spell out guidelines on the commercial sale of the drug.

The resulting confusion has left patients and local officials in a lurch.

“How can you bust people for breaking the law when there are no rules?” wondered Dion Markgraaff, a medical marijuana advocate who helped organize the demonstration. “That's what everybody wants – regulation.”

Motorists driving by the protest along Broadway honked in apparent support of the protesters, who stayed at the corner for nearly an hour before marching to the Hall of Justice.

They hoped to meet with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who vowed at a news conference Thursday to continue raiding dispensaries if they do not shut down.

Courthouse security teams refused to allow all the protesters to enter the building, permitting only a handful of them to drop off a letter to Dumanis.

The rejection did not sit well with Richard Hertz, a medical marijuana advocate from Clairemont who was among those left outside. “Our local officials aren't following state law or the will of the people,” he said.

The letter to Dumanis urged her to develop local rules governing pot dispensaries so patients would have reliable and safe access to their pain-relieving medicine.

Dumanis was out of her office yesterday but had an aide read her the letter by telephone before issuing this response: “Legitimate patients and/or their real care providers can grow reasonable amounts of marijuana as prescribed by actual treating physicians. That's not what's happening here.”

Dumanis was unavailable for follow-up questions.

Medical marijuana activist Rudy Reyes, who suffered severe burns across his face and body in the Cedar fire, wants to know what options exist for patients like him if they are unable to grow plants on their own or buy pot from dispensaries.

“There are no guidelines for the county,” he said outside the federal courthouse. “What am I supposed to do?”

In an unrelated development yesterday, three advocacy groups petitioned a state court to intervene in a lawsuit brought by San Diego County that seeks to overturn California's medical marijuana laws.

The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance filed court papers to join in defending the pending case.


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