Backers of medical marijuana protest raids

July 27, 2007

John Asbury, Press-Enterprise (CA)

Medical-marijuana advocates staged a protest in front of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration building in Riverside on Friday to oppose recent raids on Southern California distributors.

Armed with megaphones and signs, about 30 protesters called for federal legislation to legalize medical marijuana and an end to the raids.Summer Glenney, Inland field coordinator for the Patient Advocacy Network, said federal officials should target more dangerous drug users rather than medical-marijuana patients.

"We're a softer target. It's uneducated for people at the DEA to compare marijuana to crack houses," Glenney said.

California voters in 1996 legalized marijuana for medical use. But marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which supersedes state law.

Last week, the DEA shut down medical-marijuana outlets in Corona and Perris. The owner of those outlets, Ronald Naulls, was arrested on federal drug-trafficking charges. Similar raids have led to other arrests at storefronts in Palm Desert and Riverside.

Federal agents are responding to an increased availability of marijuana in the area and the raids are not part of any sudden sweep, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen.

"Marijuana in any form is illegal," Pullen said. "Our goal is to focus on drug-trafficking operations and those violators supplying drugs to the community."

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated a proposal to bar the DEA from using federal funds to conduct the raids. Supporters of the measure argued that the raids were overriding the wishes of Californians and taking away doctor-approved drugs from sick people. All six Inland representatives voted against the measure.

Friday's protesters handed out fliers to motorists condemning Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, for his vote against the proposal. Opponents claimed Calvert wants patients to become dependent on pharmaceuticals instead of natural cures.

"I understand that the use of marijuana for medical purposes can be an emotional issue for many people," Calvert said in a statement. "There are federal criminal penalties for actions including possession, trafficking and manufacture of marijuana, regardless of state laws. The DEA is simply doing its job of enforcing the law of the United States."

Only two or three dispensaries remain in the Inland area. One, in Palm Desert, will close in September under pressure from the city, and another, in Palm Springs, is being threatened with eviction after the DEA announced it reserves the right to seize the property of anyone who rents to medical-marijuana outlets.

William Vicary, a Los Angeles doctor who was named in the federal arrest warrant against the Corona dispensary, said he does not recommend marijuana to most patients but that he believes it is helpful for some ailments.

The arrest warrant said he prescribed medical marijuana to undercover DEA agents. Vicary said the prescription was given through a standard diagnosis and that he has not been contacted since by federal officials.

As an alternative, Vicary has issued an FDA-approved prescription drug, Marinol, made of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

"There's a clear conflict of the law that the federal government has the right to go after anyone using marijuana," Vicary said. "It puts patients in jeopardy of committing a crime when they have to go buy it on the streets. Imagine a 60-year-old woman with breast cancer going to skid row."

Staff writers David Olson and Paige Austin contributed to this report.

Reach John Asbury at 951-368-9288 or jasbury@PE.com



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