Blog Voices from the Frontlines
Associated Press, the Daily Breeze, and KSBY - NBC TV 6 (San Luis Obispo). DEA Raids Downtown Dispensary Following the Rally From ASA California Campaign Director, Don Duncan Last Thursday, more than 300 medical cannabis patients and advocates rallied in front of the Governor's office in downtown Los Angeles demanding that he stand up for patients' rights and the will of California voters and lawmakers. Last night, the DEA and LAPD staged yet another raid a one of Los Angeles' collectives, the Arts District Healing Center (ADHC). More than 50 protesters turned out again to defend ADHC, which serves patients just blocks from City Hall. It is disheartening to see our local police department continue to support these harmful and unnecessary raids – despite clear guidance from LAPD Veteran and City Council Member Dennis Zine and his colleagues that the City intends to regulate medical cannabis facilities instead of close them. It is crucial that City Council members move forward quickly with a proposed resolution calling on an end to cooperation between the LAPD and DEA on medical cannabis raids. The image of our police department has been battered of late by brutality and scandal. This city does not need to see the men and women who should be heroes doing the work of villains. I was so proud of my fellow Angelinos and our guests from as far away as Rhode Island who stood up twice yesterday. It is a tremendous credit to local organizers that this constituency is so well trained and prepared to respond to an emergency on short notice. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) staff and volunteers leapt into action – sending hundreds of text messages and thousands of email alerts about the raid and protest less than one one half an hour after in began. You can sign up for our emergency text message alert to be notified about DEA raids at http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert. To sign up to receive the weekly round up by email, click here.
Some Examples of Local Cooperation with the DEA in Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients - Americans for Safe AccessSo, think about this. Medical marijuana use and cultivation has been legal in California since 1996, but more than ten years later, there are still local law enforcement agents who refuse to follow state law. Especially since the Raich decision in 2005, many California law enforcement officials have cooperated with the federal government in investigating, raiding, and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers. In the most egregious cases, local governments have actively regulated and issued permits to these providers, only to have local law enforcement later turn them over the federal government. Here is an incomplete list of some stories of this practice, feel free to post others in comments with source links.
- On 9/13/07, DEA and Nevada County Sheriffs raided several residences near Big Oak Valley, and arrested 3 individual patient-cultivators for cultivating 190 plants. Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal initiated the investigation, and utilized federal DEA warrants because federal charges carry more jail time upon conviction than state cases and he intends to continue to raid collective cultivation sites. "We asked for help through the U.S. Attorney, and the DEA came through with the warrants," Royal said. Source
- On 8/29/07, DEA, San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force, and San Mateo PD raided 3 dispensing collectives in San Mateo (Patients Choice Resource Cooperative, Peninsula Patients Local Option, M.H.T.), confiscating medicine and shutting them down. After considering a letter he had received from Patients Choice that explained the legality of dispensing collectives under state law, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe decided to call in the DEA to raid the dispensaries. "We could have sat here and spent a great deal of taxpayer money in San Mateo County, prosecuting it and going through the appeals, or we could bring the case to the attention of the federal government," Wagstaffe said. Source
- On 7/25/07, DEA & LAPD raided 10 dispensing collectives in Los Angeles, confiscating medicine, arresting 5 and closing many of the collectives. Specifically, one LAPD Officer, Detective Dennis Packer, was caught on video wearing DEA regalia and actively participating in the raid, and was a cross-deputized agent. While the LAPD promised to investigate his role in the raid, on 8/16/07, LAPD Commander David R. Doan told the Los Angeles City Council that the LAPD will continue to participate in federal raids on local medical marijuana dispensing collectives. Doan told council members (many of who were pressuring him not to cooperate) that the LAPD had a positive relationship with the DEA and he did not want to risk damaging that relationship and that it was LAPD policy to provide assistance with lawful federal warrants. Doan stated, "If it's going to be our position to say we're not going to help the [Drug Enforcement Administration], I'm not authorized to make that statement today," Doan said. Sources here, here, here and here.
- On 5/1/07, DEA, Kern County Sheriffs & Bakersfield PD raided Nature’s Medicinal Collective in Oildale and confiscated medicine, warning the dispensing collective not to reopen. It reopened anyway, and as the culmination of an 18-month investigation, the same law enforcement agencies raided again on 7/17/07, confiscating medicine and eventually arresting 8 patients on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, remarked after the first raid, “I understand why they are offended. First you regulate us and then arrest us. It’s contradictory and I am aware of that.” Eventually, all 6 dispensing collectives in the Bakersfield area closed, with one owner/operator crediting his decision to an alleged discussion where Sheriff Youngblood informed him of his intention to call the DEA to shut him down. The Sheriff himself took credit for these shutdowns in Business Week, saying that his own warnings, combined with the federal raids, have eliminated dispensing collectives in Kern County. "It is a federal crime, and federal law trumps California law," he says. Sheriff Youngblood then announced in 8/07 that he will not issue any more dispensing collective licenses (which is his job under the Kern County dispensing collective regulation ordinance) as he feels that he is helping people break the law. Sources are here, here, here, here, and here.
- On 3/29/07, DEA & San Luis Obispo County Sheriffs raided Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, confiscating medicine, and arresting 1 patient-employee on state charges. The Sheriffs spent the afternoon inside the dispensing collective with the DEA, taking down names and other information of patients arriving throughout the day. Sheriff's Sergeant and Public Information Officer Brian Hascall reported that the raid was the culmination of a year-long investigation by his Department. "The entire investigation started with us," Hascall said in a later interview. "I can't say why, but we started the investigation, and then because of the nature of the investigation, we requested the DEA's assistance, and it became a joint investigation between the two of us. That's common for it to be done that way." The Sheriffs did not get a state search warrant, and used a federal search warrant to carry out a local arrest warrant. Hascall explained that the Sheriff's Department has a duty to uphold both state and federal laws, pointing to the oath of office that requires them to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America as well as the Constitution of the State of California. "That's where the conflict between the federal law and the state law becomes such a problem," Hascall said. Sarah Pullen, Public Information Officer for the DEA's Los Angeles field division said that the agency does typically use local law enforcement in all enforcement actions. Source
- On 7/17/07, presumably as a result of evidence gathered in the previous state-initiated raid, DEA arrested Charles Lynch (owner/operator of Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers) at his residence. He is currently being federally charged with manufacturing and distributing marijuana, distributing marijuana to a person under 21, possession with intent to distribute, maintaining a drug-involved premise, and aiding and abetting to distribute marijuana and his case is ongoing. Source
- On 9/27/06, DEA, IRS and Modesto PD raided the California Healthcare Collective in Modesto, confiscating medicine and arresting 4 patients. Modesto PD and DEA engaged in a 15-month investigation in which they sent officers to purchase cannabis from the clinic. Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden’s gave a statement supporting the raid: "Make no mistake about it…It simply will not be tolerated." Sources here and here.
- On 12/12/05, and then again on 7/6/06, after a self-characterized joint investigation, DEA, San Diego County Sheriffs, and San Diego PD raided 11 dispensing collectives in San Diego under federal and state search warrants, confiscating medicine, arresting 6 on federal charges, and then pressured the rest of the city’s dispensaries to shut down. San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis filed state charges against five dispensing collectives and during the investigation, San Diego PD officers went to doctors to get recommendations and also visited dispensaries, posing as legitimate patients. After the raids, Dumanis put the unraided dispensaries on notice, saying, “We've raided some of you today. We'll raid the rest of you if you do not cease and desist. We'll raid you again and again.” Sources here, here and here.
ASA's amicus brief seeks a definition of primary caregiver that is more faithful to the language of the Compassionate Use Act and the voters' intent.
Obfuscation by Kern County Officials Means No Access for Hundreds of Area Medical Marijuana Patients - Americans for Safe AccessIn the latest saga of obfuscation by Kern County officials, District Attorney Ed Jagels has recommended the banning of dispensaries in the county. The Bakersfield Californian quotes Jagels in an October 10 article as saying, "I do not think we benefit from the cooperative/collective licensing ordinance." Who doesn't benefit, and what exactly are the problems caused by the existing ordinance approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2006? Let's be very clear about this. The people who stand to lose the most from a lack of dispensaries in Kern are the hundreds of patients now forced to travel to other counties to obtain their medical marijuana. Let's be clear about another thing. The Kern County Sheriff was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to oversee the dispensary permitting process as defined by the county's regulatory ordinance. The fact that Sheriff Youngblood cooperated with federal DEA agents to raid and close the same dispensaries that had been permitted by his office is cause for great concern. I wonder if Sheriff Youngblood understands that medical marijuana patients and providers are prevented from using medical evidence at their federal trial. Is it possible that Sheriff Youngblood couldn't figure out how to file charges under state law, or was he trying to ensure a conviction in federal court for conduct with which he disagreed, even if he had to violate his own ordinance to do it? There's one more thing to be clear about. The Kern County Board of Supervisors did the right thing in adopting the 2006 ordinance regulating dispensaries. The dispensaries that were permitted under the ordinance and the communities surrounding them had very few problems. But, Sheriff Youngblood wasn't the same Sheriff that took part in drafting the ordinance, and now he has succeeded in undermining both state and local law. The solution is not, as suggested by DA Jagels, to shut down dispensaries or ban them from Kern County. The best solution is one of the options offered by the Kern County Counsel -- maintain the current ordinance, but appoint another agency to oversee the permitting process. Kern County patients rely on these facilities, and it's up to county officials to figure out how to effectively regulate them.
candidate statement on Calitics yesterday. After covering his platform issues, he came out strongly in favor of medical cannabis:
And the one vote I will consistently cast is to support medical use of marijuana. My extensive corporate management experience with employees, who fell victim, albeit rarely, to substance abuse is based on medical and other professional training, not on the viewpoint of archaic hysteria. As an expert in employee recovery programs, I know this drug to be fully appropriate for medicinal uses and it does not constitute a "domino" step to harder drugs.Considering that Filson is vying for a seat that has historically been held by Republicans, this is a courageous statement and shows that he really cares about patients and understands the importance of this issue to Californians. Thanks to the work of Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, all of the Democratic presidential candidates have also come out in support of medical marijuana, along with two of the Republican candidates, Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Tom Tancredo. It is clear that medical marijuana is becoming a more mainstream electoral issue. Soon it will be the job of advocates and patients to hold our elected officials to these statements.
Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Pres.) Ice Cold to wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patient - Americans for Safe AccessWow, take a look at Gov. Romney's cold dismissal of wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patient and muscular dystrophy sufferer Clayton Holton. Holton tries to explain to Gov. Romney that marijuana works for him in a way that other medicines have not. Gov. Romney's tired rejoinder is that Colton should ignore what his own body has told him and seek Marinol or addictive opiate-based pain medications, even though
"It makes me sick. I have tried it, and it makes me throw up," Holton said.Holton then asks the key question:
"Will you arrest me or my doctors if I get medical marijuana?"Romney brusquely states:
"I am not in favor of medical marijuana being legal in the country."and then coldly walks away, continuing to refuse to answer the question, even after several entreaties by the wheelchair-bound patient and others. Taking the Governor on his word, if he becomes President, he does in fact intend to raid, arrest and prosecute sick patients like Clayton Holton and throw them in jail for using marijuana to help ease debilitating ailments like muscular dystrophy. Traditional Media, including CNN, from whence the link came, pick this up, Romney absolutely will arrest the sick and dying. That's just sad. Gov. Romney, I urge you to look to your religious beliefs which you so often cite as inspiring you to public service, and try to find compassion in your heart. Even if you do not endeavor to change your stance on medical marijuana, you can still commit to ending the raids that put the sick and dying in jail. It's the compassionate thing to do.
New Documentary Illustrates the Need for and Benefit of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries - Americans for Safe AccessIn a time of increased federal raids and DEA attacks on patients and providers across California, it is important to have educational tools like the new documentary, "Dispensing Cannabis: The California Story," to illustrate the importance of understanding and protecting dispensaries as an integral part of safe access and the successful implementation of state law. According to the producers of this important documentary:
In the hour-long documentary "Dispensing Cannabis: The California Story," voices from inside discuss practices and issues involved in distributing medical cannabis. Of the twelve states in 2006 that permit medical cannabis use, California is the only state that allows for the distribution of the medicine. How and where do people get their medicine? How does one insure that their medicine is clean, safe and of sufficient quality? Tours of five cannabis dispensary models provide an unprecedented look into this quasi-legal business. Doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, patients and caregivers share their perspectives and concerns.The documentary is a finalist in the La Femme Film Festival and will screen on Thursday, October 11 at 10am at the Wilshire Screening Room, 8670 Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills (cost is $10). The Director/Producer Ann Alter will be in attendance at the screening. The filmmakers are interested in holding additional screenings in the Los Angeles area between October 11 - 14. Contact distribution coordinator Ben Shaw at 707-496-9439 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details. A trailer for "Dispensing Cannabis" can be viewed here, and you can purchase a DVD by visiting the official "Dispensing Cannabis" website. For more information on medical cannabis dispensaries and to hear what public officials across the state have said about them, refer to ASA's report, "Medical Cannabis Dispensing Collectives and Local Regulation."
www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/Martin_Letter.pdf. The press conference continued with Martin's lawyer, Sara Zalkin, his mother, Kimberly Miller, a patient who relies on cannabis edibles, Jeff Bishop, collective operator Richard Lee, and ASA's Executive Director, Dr. Frank Lucido, Steph Sherer, speaking. Several media sources covered the press conference including the San Francisco Chronicle, The Associated Press, ABC 7, CBS 5, and KTVU Channel 2. Martin was released on bail of $300,000 and will appear before the Magistrate Brazil in Oakland Federal Court along with the three other defendants facing charges, on October 26th at 10:00am. ASA will be posting his upcoming court dates in the CA Weekly Alerts to come. Read ASA's press advisory on the event here. ASA Chapters Organize Statewide Banner Drop Targeting Governor Schwarzenegger Yesterday, with one week until the statewide mobilization left, several California ASA chapters throughout the state conducted a synchronized banner drop during rush hour. Activists performed this act of civil disobedience by rolling out homemade banners, reading the message, "Gov. Schwarzenegger: Defend California's Medical Marijuana Laws!" Some of the chapters, like the San Francisco ASA chapter, left the banner up after they had left. The banner drops were designed to further promote the important mobilization to the Governor's office next Thursday, whilst increasing public awareness around the issue. As many of you may know, medical marijuana activists, supporters, patients, and providers, have been organizing a statewide mobilization to the Governor's office in Los Angeles. The event will take place next Thursday, October 11th at 12:00pm at the Governor's Los Angeles office. To read more about the campaign and the mobilization, check out the "Take Action" and "Special Events" sections in the Weekly Alert, or visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/StandUp. Several people called ASA's headquarters yesterday to report spotting the banners on their way to work. ASA's San Francisco chapter recorded their banner drop on video. We will be posting the video on ASA's website early next week. Thank you to all the chapter members for taking action to promote this historic campaign! If you are interested in getting involved in your local ASA chapter, contact Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org. Longtime Medical Marijuana Activist is Arrested at a Drug Free Coalition Meeting Earlier this week, longtime medical marijuana activist and leader of the Inland Empire's Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, Lanny Swerdlow, was arrested at a Drug Free Community Coalition meeting in Rancho Cucamunga. Swerdlow was arrested after law enforcement were called by the Drug Free Community Coalition's leader, Paul Chabot. Authorities claim that Swerdlow was arrested because Chabot was pressing charges for alleged assault. Swerdlow refutes this claim, and is preparing to fight the charges. Below is an excerpt that Swerdlow wrote up about the event:
"After about an hour of sitting in the car while the police questioned some of the people and ran background checks on the four of us who were there and questioned me as well, the officer issued me a citation, citing me for battery. They informed me that they were not doing this because they had seen anything, but doing it because Mr. Chabot was pressing charges against me. They were very courteous the entire time and I suspect that they felt this was all a crock, but, if I understood them correctly, they had no choice but to arrest me because Mr. Chabot was adamant in filing charges... No matter what happens, the Chabots and their Drug Free Community Coalition better get used to seeing us if they are going to operate in the Inland Empire and continue their attacks on California's medical marijuana laws. Riverside County has made great strides especially in the light of where this county was five years ago. San Bernardino County is somewhat where Riverside County was five years ago but there are two cities, Claremont and Diamond Bar in SB County that allow dispensaries. We have come too far and achieved too much to let anyone stop us now. We will do what we can to see to it that patients in the Inland Empire continue to have access to sources of medicinal marijuana and that laws of the state of California are respected by all. "Read the Lanny Swerdlow's full report on ASA's Forums here. For more information on the event and the work MAPP is doing, contact Lanny at: email@example.com. To sign up to receive this weekly round up by e-mail, click here.
www.leap.cc). He now serves as land use permitting counsel for better MCDs throughout the State of California and looks forward to a day when the federal government realizes it has better things to do with its resources than harass patients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patients and advocates often ask if there's any pattern to DEA raids. This a common and understandable question--as human beings we want a predictable and sensible universe. And this natural impulse to seek patterns is exploited by all psychological terror groups in a number of ways. (I include the DEA as a psychological terror group because 1) they are losing the war on medical marijuana and must resort to ever more desperate tactics, and 2) because they are part of the US government which openly condones torture and preemptive warfare--clearly a dangerous and ruthless adversary). There are two basic ways to exploit this human desire for patterns: 1) Be utterly random--this generates fear and leaves the victim completely without any pattern to rely on--think of random car bombings and how demoralizing that must be, the only protection is to never go out in public or to leave the area. 2) Create the appearance of patterns and then break them. This is good because it leaves the victim eternally vigilant and seeking for and inventing non-existent patterns. In experiments with animals this is called "experimental neurosis." It is a proven method of driving mammals crazy and leads to fits and frenzies of self-biting, mania, and catatonia. The DEA and the US government are well aware of this dimension of psychological warfare. They truly believe it is a war and that we are the enemy. They are not interested in debating this issue or in allowing different states to try different approaches. To the DEA, we are evil and must be eradicated--or intimidated into surrender. Given all that, the DEA does three things: 1) it throws darts at a map (randomness), 2) it looks for maximum propaganda value (what story can they tell to make us look bad?--and those are indeed narrative patterns), and 3) individual offices in the various geographical areas have to justify their existence for continued funding and positive job evaluations (it is after all a job in a bureaucracy--once in a while, you got to do something), this leads to the "low hanging fruit" pattern. So we have the following patterns: 1) Randomness--to keep us all on our toes, and to keep us fooling our selves with silly stories like, "You only get busted if you . . . (fill in the blank: advertise, don't advertise, are public, are private, for profit, non-profit--it might make you happy but there are now examples to prove every such "rule" both true AND false--the DEA is very Zen that way). 2) Propaganda Narratives--front for legalization; front for criminal gangs; front for "able-bodied urban youth gangs" (code for young people of color); danger to the environment; "profiteers"; corrupters of youth; gonna getcha daughter; pot stronger than ever; grow houses gone amok; conspiracy; terrorist funders; etc, etc--all basically Reefer Madness Redux. Think of the recent 60 Minutes coverage which fell into this to some extent. Think of any DEA press conference and you will clearly see one of these narratives. 3) Low Hanging Fruit--who would you want to go after: a well-organized 100 million a year crack, heroin and meth distribution network (which can now be found in any part of America, rural or urban or in between, thanks to 30 years of ramped up prohibition)--or a bunch of peaceful medical cannabis advocates, sitting there with no violent inclinations at all and a sign hanging up saying Medical Cannabis--Come and Bust Us, We Will Lie Down on the Ground? Yeah, me too. So when you need to bump up your stats (or you need to justify that useless multi-agency task force's multi-million dollar budget that aint done jack all year), whip up a "year-long investigation" (what takes a year to figure out that they are selling marijuana in there? duh) and put on the flak jacket, round up the SWAT team and go kick some ass. Oh yeah, and extra bonus points if you can bust a person of color, or a youth, or someone with a record, or someone who's doing it right and actually balancing the books, generating a surplus and paying all their taxes--then you can use their financial statements against them (ask their CPA politely and s/he'll print them out for you)--and you can seize their bank accounts and literally pay tribute to your bosses (maybe in the tens or hundreds of thousands--oh, was that why they waited a year? So they could steal your money?), Hi Boss, the task force brought in $200K this morning--and rounded up some dangerous sick people who provide a medical service. Well, it's a job and the benefits are good--and the potheads NEVER shoot back. At least, those are the only patterns I see, but maybe I'm missing something. (Oh yeah, and I hear busts usually happen on Wednesdays. Go fishing on Wednesdays.) And, yes, I'm really sorry that I can't give you the "rules," so we never have to worry about being busted. The DEA is not rules-based. It is our enemy--distribute cannabis, and you are fair game for capture, torture, imprisonment, kidnapping, and loss of all property (the only thing left is attainder of blood-- where they curse your entire family name for all time to come, but give them a minute to work it out). Of course you can sweeten the odds: have your city government and neighbors love you, be white, sit in a wheelchair, change your last name to Bush, be extremely lucky, turn around three times counter-clockwise every morning and say the Hail Mary backwards. I wish I could add sincerity to the list, but I'm not quite that naive. Still, it couldn't hurt, as long as you're real with yourself about the rest of it. Here's my advice, which I give to every potential client at the first meeting: Don't do it (for all the reasons given above and more). And I totally understand that most of them walk away. That's a good thing. If they go for it anyway, I call that committed. And that's a good thing too. But just be real. And be smart. Anyone who operates a dispensary has an extremely high risk-comfort level, or you could say, is either a hero or a fool.
Drug Law Blog does a nice job of taking apart a misinformed Inland Empire Op-Ed railing against medical marijuana dispensaries:
Chabot (the author) spends hundreds of words repeating misinformation about medical marijuana's medical efficacy, arguing that "Marinol is a medicine - smoked marijuana is not," flogging the "gateway drug" theory, and generally championing the party line of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. She forgets to use the goofy ONDCP tagline -- "Marijuana: harmless?" -- but otherwise sounds like she's writing a speech for John Walters to deliver to some provincial Rotary Club. The thing she seems to forget is that the train she's riding already left the station a long time ago in California, along with 11 other states.Apparently, even with all of the evidence, some dead-enders continue to deny that marijuana is medicine. So, I guess that's why we're here, to continue to educate so that when writers like Chabot spread misinformation like "Research has not demonstrated that smoked marijuana can be helpful as medicine," a chorus of voices cry out in protest. Letter to the Editor, anyone?