Morro Bay pot raid triggered by alleged violations of state and federal laws

March 30, 2007

Leslie Parrilla, San Luis Obispo Tribune (CA)

Sheriff’s Department officials said they were investigating both state and federal violations when they raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay this week.

A conflict between state and federal law exists because voter-approved state law allows medical marijuana while federal law restricts the drug.

Sheriff’s and federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials raided Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers at 780 Monterey Ave. on Thursday.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hascall said both federal and state violations were discovered during a yearlong investigation into the business — the county’s only medical marijuana dispensary.

"As to which came first, I don’t know," Hascall said. "We may have actually discovered both at the same time."

Morro Bay police were not involved in the investigation, Hascall said, because they have limited resources and county sheriff’s narcotics detectives do not typically hand over investigations to city agencies.

Hascall said they had a local arrest warrant for two state violations in addition to the federal search warrants.

The two sealed federal search warrants are expected to be unsealed in about a month, Hascall said.

An attorney for dispensary owner Charles Lynch said Friday that his client still doesn’t know whether he will reopen the business.

Hascall said his department can’t ignore violations on any level if they learn a law has been broken.

"It’s our responsibility to uphold both federal and state law," Hascall said. "It’s our obligation to start an investigation into any violation of the law that is brought to our attention or discovered by us during the course of our duties."

But critics disagree. Kris Hermes, the legal campaign director of Americans For Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy organization, said that argument doesn’t hold up.

"This is the argument local law enforcement gets away with time and time again," Hermes said. "In fact, the opposite is true. There is an obligation for local law enforcement to uphold local and state law and state statutes.

"There is no requirement that the federal government places on state or local employees to uphold federal law."

Hermes also pointed out that if sheriff’s officials were concerned about state violations, they should have used state-issued search warrants instead of federal warrants.

"The use of the federal government is still used to intimidate and maintain the closure of that facility," Hermes said.

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