Pot bust protest at police station

July 13, 2004

Patrick Hoge, San Francisco Chronicle

 

Demonstrators planted small marijuana plants and scattered hemp seeds outside a California Highway Patrol office in Oakland on Tuesday to protest the recent arrests of four people for growing pot, supposedly for medical use.

The 30 protesters, some openly smoking marijuana from a pipe and several in wheelchairs, denounced the CHP for calling in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration this month after a state officer discovered 4,000 marijuana plants growing in a West Oakland warehouse.

Medical marijuana advocates say the herb was destined for sick people, while state officers said they had no indication the warehouse operation was anything more than a criminal enterprise.

As soon as the demonstration concluded, two CHP officers wearing elastic gloves went to the landscaped area where the seven green plants were poking out of the ground and dug them up, placing them into a brown evidence bag.

Capt. Jim Leonard said he had not realized what the protesters were doing because he had not posted an officer to monitor the demonstration, which took place on a city sidewalk.

'If I had known what they were doing, I might have done something different,'' he said.

Among those demonstrating were Angel McClary Raich, who is currently being sued by the federal Justice Department over medical marijuana use in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court; and Ed Rosenthal, a marijuana advocate found guilty by a San Francisco federal jury last year of growing pot for a cooperative that supplied patients. Prosecutors are appealing Rosenthal's conviction, while the government is appealing the trial judge's decision not to sentence him to prison.

Don Duncan, who works at a Berkeley pot dispensary, said the plants and seeds were used to pose a question: Where are patients supposed to grow marijuana under Proposition 215, the initiative approved by California voters in 1996 that legalized marijuana for medical use under state law?

Duncan contends the CHP should have left the warehouse operation alone because it was intended to supply marijuana to dispensaries that provide the plant to people with doctors' recommendations to use the drug.

'The state of California should not be victimizing patients,'' he said.

He said the state agency also should have consulted with local officials instead of notifying a federal law enforcement agency.

CHP Sgt. Wayne Ziese said his agency had first notified the Oakland Police Department, which declined to take the case, and then turned it over to the DEA, which has the expertise to process such a large crime scene.

The warehouse operation did not fall into the category of a typical medical marijuana bust, he said, in which a person with a relatively small amount of marijuana might claim medical authorization.

'Individuals there (at the warehouse) were not pulling out their medical authorization cards to show to the officers,'' Ziese said. 'They were running away.''



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