Advocates decry medical marijuana raids

October 06, 2007

Michael Manekin, Contra Costa Times (CA)

The raid of a large Oakland-based manufacturer of cannabis-laced candy last month was deemed by the federal government as a timely victory in the war on drugs.

With Halloween only weeks away, "kids and parents need to be careful in case kids get ahold of this candy," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Javier Pena said after the bust.

But medical marijuana advocates, who dismissed Pena's Halloween reference as an "absurd" attempt at "pure publicity," pointed to the raid as further evidence that the DEA has escalated its attack on California's marijuana laws by targeting the most vulnerable medical cannabis patients.

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 medical marijuana users are in the state, and the most terminal and debilitated among them cannot smoke their medicine. Instead, the elderly and those suffering from cancer or living with HIV must eat it.

The recent federal raid of Tainted Inc. -- a company that produced cannabis-infused candy, cookies, granola bars, ice cream, brownies, energy drinks and other products -- has "literally denied thousands and thousands of patients throughout the state" of their medicine, said Kris Hermes of Safe Access Now, the largest medical marijuana advocacy group in the country.

Until last month, Tainted was perhaps the largest distributor of cannabis-laced edibles for the state's medical marijuana patients, according to dispensary  owners and advocates.

Only Beyond Bomb, another Oakland-based manufacturer of pot-infused morsels, once distributed as much edible medicine, but the DEA shut it down last year. Since both companies were once the largest distributors to the state's medical marijuana dispensaries, patients too sick or weak to smoke are struggling to access their medicine, advocates and dispensary owners said.

The raid on Tainted, which netted four arrests and the seizure of about 460 marijuana plants, is one of at least 44 DEA raids of medical marijuana dispensaries or individuals in California this year, according to Hermes.

Last year, Hermes said, the DEA raided about 20 patients or providers of medical cannabis -- less than half the raids conducted thus far this year. In 2005, the federal government raided 19 establishments.

"The escalation is really quite serious and devastating both to state law and seriously ill patients in California," Hermes said. "This isn't just a game of chess between patients and the federal government."

The DEA makes no apologies for the raids.

The shutdown of Tainted was consistent with the agency's mission to "go after distributors who manufacture, cultivate and distribute (marijuana) at the highest levels," said DEA spokeswoman Casey McEnry.

Asked whether the agency was concerned how the raid would affect patients throughout the state, McEnry said that marijuana "has no medical use ... according to federal statutes."

Dr. Frank Lucido, a Berkeley-based general practitioner who advocates the medical use of cannabis, dismissed that notion and criticized the DEA raids as a dangerous outgrowth of a misguided federal policy.

"These raids always affect the sickest the most because they don't know how to go out on the street and find marijuana," Lucido said. Patients who can't smoke because of illness or those who find themselves in hospitals "rely on edibles," he said.

Many less-terminal patients choose to ingest marijuana because the doses are steady and more easily regulated.

Using laced sweets and snacks with medicine is hardly a ruse to encourage recreational marijuana usage but rather "a time-honored tradition to use a little bit of sugar to make the medicine go down," Lucido said.

Jeff Bishop, a 41-year-old Oakland resident living with HIV, once counted on Tainted products as his most reliable form of edible marijuana.

Unlike smaller manufacturers of cannabis-laced sweets, "You could pretty bet on the (Tainted) dosages being what they're supposed to be," Bishop said.

Bishop is worried that the DEA raid of the two largest distributors of edible medical marijuana will jeopardize his ability to treat his illness.

Reach Michael Manekin at 650-348-4331 or mmanekin@sanmateocountytimes.com.



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