Federal agents search dispensary in Pomona

June 13, 2007

Monica Rodriguez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency - assisted by Pomona police officers - served a search warrant Wednesday afternoon at a medical marijuana dispensary in the eastern end of the city.

About 10 federal agents and 15 police officers arrived to serve the warrant at about 12:30 p.m. at Farm Assist Caregivers, 268 San Lorenzo St., police Lt. Paul Capraro said.

Agents detained the establishment's operator, David Touhey, and took him to the police station for questioning late Wednesday afternoon.

That evening, Sarah Pullen, spokeswoman for the DEA in Los Angeles, said no charges were going to be filed.

Pullen said she could not confirm nor deny who was detained, and that the warrant was part of an ongoing investigation. In some instances, a person may be detained and then released, she said.

Charges are not filed until an investigation is completed and the case is presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Pullen said.

From the establishment, agents removed bags of marijuana as well as marijuana packaged in pill bottles, similar to those used in pharmacies. A loaded revolver was also found in one of the rooms, Capraro said.

Baked goods containing marijuana and at least one currency-filled bag were removed as well.

Since the DEA is the lead agency, any charges will be filed at the federal level, police Chief Joe Romero said. More importantly, the federal agency's intervention allows police to concentrate on local matters.

"By combining resources we're able to attack multiple priorities for this community," Romero said.

The federal agents arrived at the dispensary, lined up on the side of the building, called the office and told them they were outside, Capraro said.

Although he doesn't know what the person at the dispensary said, Capraro said he heard an agent say, "No, I'm not kidding," before going to the door.

Amos Battle of Fontana was one of two security guards at the dispensary.

Law-enforcement personnel "just came in with guns and stuff and told us all to get down" on the floor, he said.

He said he wasn't bothered by what happened, but he was surprised to see agents at the door of the dispensary, which is located in an industrial area.

While law-enforcement officials conducted their search, car drivers stretched their necks to see what was taking place.

Businessman Neil Franklin has office space immediately next door to the dispensary and shared a common wall and door with the operation. He said at times the odor of burning marijuana came into his business from under the door.

Franklin asked Touhey to watch what he was doing, because he had clients coming into his offices.

The dispensary drew a steady flow of traffic, much of it from young people, Franklin said.

"What bothered us was that they would sit in their cars and divvy it up," Franklin said.

Franklin complained to the dispensary's security personnel and Touhey.

During the past two months or so, the stream of people visiting the dispensary grew and made it difficult for Franklin to park in front of his business.

Franklin again complained and he was given traffic cones to mark his and his employees' parking spaces.

Many of the people driving by Wednesday afternoon had been regular dispensary customers in the past, Franklin said.

"I feel sorry for the 2 or 3 percent who needed it," said Franklin, referring to those who use the marijuana for medical purposes.

A woman, who said she was a dispensary client and would only identify herself as Kim from San Dimas, said she has multiple sclerosis and is in constant pain.

The marijuana helps her with the pain and allows her to sleep. Without the marijuana, she said, she would have to rely on morphine, which she would rather not use because it creates other health problems for her.

"This is better than morphine and that's my last resort," she said.

With the dispensary closed, she'll look for another place to obtain the marijuana, she said.

"I'll go wherever," she said.

Touhey opened his dispensary in late December 2005. It did not draw attention until April 2006, when an initial 45-day moratorium banning dispensaries went to the City Council.

At that point, council members were informed Touhey's dispensary was operating in the city.

City-planning personnel found out the operation existed when Touhey came in to apply for a business permit. He was told twice that the city didn't issue licenses for such operations. A third time, planning personnel told him the city is not zoned for such establishments.

City leaders allowed the dispensary to remain in place, but approved the moratorium to give city administrators time to study the larger issue of dispensaries.

In March, the City Council voted to deny the dispensary an exemption to the moratorium. At the same time, the moratorium was extended to give two cases in the courts related to dispensary issues time to be resolved.

At the time, Touhey said he would continue operating, and the city and he met in court. The city had been working on and had secured an injunction.

Those who operate dispensaries are always at risk of having federal law enforcement show up at their door, said Ken Anderson, who operated Collective Solution dispensary in Norco for three months.

He closed the operation to obtain a business permit and work to get zoning for such operations in Norco.

In the case of Collective Solution, federal law is something they took into account. While state law permits marijuana for medical use, federal laws do not.

"We thought long and hard on that. It's something you face and we are willing to challenge that," he said. "We each take chances when we go into this."

Federal authorities don't see marijuana for its medicinal purposes, but rather as simply a drug issue, Anderson said.

For DEA to show up in Pomona, "just shows how far we are from (medical marijuana) being acceptable across the board," he said.

Often local governments are not open to the use of medical marijuana for medical uses, he said. Many people in business and other fields use marijuana for its medical benefits but won't come forward due to the stigma associated with it, Anderson said.

"But that's the reality of it. To each his own," he said.

Staff writer Monica Rodriguez can be reached by e-mail at m_rodriguez@dailybulletin.com, or by phone at (909) 483-9336.

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