Feds, LAPD freeze Berkeley pot club's assets

July 31, 2007

Paul T. Rosynsky, Oakland Tribune

BERKELEY — A city-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensary had its assets frozen this week, prompting some city council members to call for new city laws protecting such businesses.

The Berkeley Patient Group was notified Monday that its bank account was frozen by the Los Angeles Police Department during a joint operation with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The operation targeted about 10 dispensaries in Los Angeles, including the California Patients Group, a sister organization to the Berkeley-based business.

The frozen accounts prevent the group from accessing cash it had saved to pay state sales taxes.

"We are a legally licensed dispensary, to be targeted like this is absurd," said Debby Goldsberry, spokesperson for the group. "They snuck in quietly and took all of our assets. We want them back."

The asset freeze appears to be connected to a raid of Los Angeles-based dispensaries conducted by the DEA last week, said Sarah Pullin, a spokesperson for the DEA-Los Angeles.

"They are associated with one of the ones we served last week," Pullin said. "I know they are in the process of freezing assets to eventually seize assets."

A spokesperson at the Los Angeles Police Department said no one was available to comment.

Pullin said she could not comment on how much money was seized or what was found during the raids in Los Angeles because the warrants remain under court seal.

Goldsberry said the group wants its money back because it serves a public health need and is legal under state and city laws.

The Berkeley Patients Group serves more than 5,000 medical marijuana clients in Berkeley and Oakland. It is one of three legalized dispensaries in the city and also provides community services such as a hospice and free delivery of organic fruit and vegetables to hospice clients.

City Council member Kriss Worthington said the city should do all it can to protect the group and the two other dispensaries now operating in the city.

Although no city has ever devised a legal strategy to combat federal laws against the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Worthington said Berkeley should work to do all it can.

"We're not sure what we can do that will give us meaningful protection, but we want to make sure it has some chance of protecting the club," he said. "There is a whole lot of other, better things the DEA can be doing with taxpayer money."

Worthington was joined by council members Darryl Moore and Max Anderson in calling for a new city ordinance.

Meanwhile, Goldsberry said the group will try to appeal to the DEA's "human side" to get its money back.

"We are doing the best we can to serve the patient community that depends on us," she said. "We need to send a strong message from our community that the DEA is not welcomed here."

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