U.S. drug agents raid Morro Bay pot dispensary

March 29, 2007

Leslie Parrilla, San Luis Obispo Tribune (CA)

The owner of a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay said he is unsure whether he’ll reopen after federal and local authorities raided his business and his Arroyo Grande home Thursday.

The raid thrusts the business into the federal-vs.-state legal battle over medical pot.

Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers employee Abe Baxter, 26, of San Luis Obispo was arrested at the dispensary at 780 Monterey Ave. on a warrant for allegedly possessing marijuana or hashish for sale and selling or furnishing the drug, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hascall.

He was booked at County Jail and is being held in lieu of posting $20,000 bail, jail officials said.

Dispensary owner Charles Lynch would not comment on what investigators seized from his house during the raid and said he’s not sure what he’ll do with the co-op.

"It depends on how things go," he said from his home. "Today’s the first day of this. I’m not sure of what’s going to happen."

Outside the Morro Bay business — the county’s only medical pot dispensary — protesters yelled and held up signs in opposition during the search.

Sheriff’s officials began the investigation about a year ago before teaming up with federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents and serving two sealed federal search warrants around 11 a.m. Thursday at the dispensary and Lynch’s home.

About a dozen investigators carried records, cannabis plants, computer equipment and packaged marijuana from the co-op.

Los Angeles-based DEA officials said the searches were the only ones carried out in the area and would not comment on details of the case.

A steady stream of customers walking up to the dispensary every few minutes during the search were told by detectives that the co-op was closed.

One customer said he was going to a dispensary in Bakersfield to get about three grams of medical marijuana, while a woman said it was her first time going to the dispensary and said she was going back to her doctor’s office.

"I think it’s wrong that they do this all the time to different cannabis clubs," said Tim Oster, 39, of Morro Bay, who said he planned to pick up about two grams of marijuana for chronic migraines and back pain. "Now I have to go and try to hustle it up on the streets."

About 2,000 people in the area rely on the dispensary, according to customers.

The dispensary has been operating in the city through a business license for about a year. Voter-approved state law allows medical marijuana but conflicts with a federal law that restricts pot. Federal authorities can make arrests and file charges for selling the drug.

Kris Hermes, the legal campaign director for Americans For Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy organization, said there has been an increase in such raids by federal agents.

"It’s outrageous what the federal government is doing at this time," Hermes said. "They’re (the dispensaries) abiding by state law. ... It’s especially unconscionable to have local officials assist the federal government. Local officials are supposed to uphold the law of their state."

Hermes said the federal government has shut down at least 30 dispensaries around the state since June 2005.

Leslie Parrilla can be reached at 783-7645

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