Authorities Raid Eleven SD Marijuana Dispensaries

July 05, 2006

, 10 News (San Diego)

SAN DIEGO -- Eleven marijuana dispensaries in the San Diego area were raided Thursday in connection with federal indictments charging six people with illegally selling pot, state and federal authorities said.


Search warrants were executed at 11 locations in San Diego County, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Crowley.


The raids were conducted by law enforcement agents and officers from the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the multi-agency Narcotics Task Force, said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.


The joint investigation began last September, after numerous complaints were lodged by nearby residents in the neighborhoods where the people were illegally selling marijuana under the guise of operating medical marijuana dispensaries, authorities said.

The federal indictments charge John Sullivan, 38; Wayne Hudson, 42; Christopher Larkin, 34; Ross McManus, 39; Scott Wright, 40: and Michael Ragin, 34, with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.


State charges will be filed Friday, Dumanis said.


Authorities said the defendants were selling pot under the guise of providing "medical marijuana."


Under Proposition 215 in California, seriously ill patients can get small amounts of marijuana legally if they have the approval of a licensed physician. The sale, possession or distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law.


"These defendants were not caregivers, and they did not run medical dispensaries," said U.S. Attorney Carol Lam. "These defendants are drug traffickers who were illegally selling marijuana in the middle of our commercial districts."


The indictment alleges Sullivan operated several marijuana distribution locations in San Diego and elsewhere, including "The Purple Bud Room" on Garnet Avenue.


According to the indictment, Sullivan operated and/or managed two distribution locations known as "Tender Holistics Care" or "THC" in San Diego, which distributed marijuana and marijuana-based products, such as ice cream, ice cream toppings, candy bars and baked goods.


From at least 2005 to the present, Hudson, Larkin and McManus have owned, managed and directed "Co-Op San Diego," a site from which they distribute marijuana and marijuana plants, according to the indictment.


To supply their operation, the defendants set up large indoor marijuana growing areas at various residences in San Diego, which were overseen by Wright and Ragin, according to the indictment.


A medical marijuana advocacy group released a statement Thursday saying authorities were overreacting and harming those in need of the herb for medical reasons.


"The DEA continues to waste valuable resources on attacking medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. "The vast majority of Americans believe the sick and suffering should have legal access to marijuana if they are helped by it."


Thirteen area dispensaries also were raided in December, according to ASA.


"In matters of health, the city has an obligation to strive to meet the needs of patients in its community," said Kris Hermes, ASA legal director.


"If the city of San Diego has received complaints about patients and their providers, there are many options of dealing with this situation that do not include calling in the DEA," Hermes said. "The city should listen to their constituents on both sides of this issue who are urging dispensary regulations."


Thursday's raids came a week after the defeat of a Congressional amendment that would have prevented the DEA from expending resources on the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers in states such as California that allow it, according to ASA.


"Our office has no intention of stopping those who are chronically ill with AIDS, glaucoma and cancer from obtaining any legally prescribed drug, including medical marijuana, to help them ease their pain," Dumanis said.


"Prop. 215 is being severely abused, and it has led to the neighborhood pot dealer opening up storefronts from La Jolla to Ocean Beach to North Park," she said.


The investigation focused on the more than 20 storefronts that opened up throughout the city of San Diego and sold marijuana to anyone with a recommendation or a caregiver form signed by the same doctors.


Marijuana prescriptions for six months or one year, which could be purchased from some doctors, appeared to be openly sold to anyone who had the cash, authorities said.


Law enforcement was encountering numerous apparently healthy individuals in their late teens or early 20s in possession of such recommendations, authorities said.


One undercover police officer was even able to buy marijuana for his dog, authorities said.


San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne said the dealers took the intended "compassionate use" of medical marijuana and turned it into a $1 million retail drug dealing business.


"We will not allow open drug dealing in the city of San Diego," Lansdowne said.


The District Attorney's Office also has filed complaints with the Medical Board against four doctors who prescribed marijuana for patients, Dumanis said.


"It's gotten out of hand," she said. "The party is over."

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