Victims of DEA Raids to Testify at LA City Council Meeting Tuesday at 10am

March 24, 2008
Los Angeles, CA -- At least three medical marijuana dispensary operators, who have been forced to close as a result of raids by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will testify before the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday at 10am, during the public comment period. Afterwards, they will march with advocates to the DEA offices downtown for an 11am rally. Virgil Grant, who's medical marijuana dispensaries were raided by the DEA last Thursday, will call on the City Council to end federal interference. Grant will be joined by Lisa Sawoya and Michael Levitt, who are both former dispensary operators that were raided in July 2007. Grant, Sawoya and Levitt all paid tens of thousands of dollars in sales tax to the state.
What: Raided medical marijuana dispensary operators testify before LA City Council followed by a rally at DEA offices
When: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 -- LA City Council meeting at 10am; Rally at DEA offices at 11am
Where: City Council meeting at 200 N. Spring St., Room 340; Rally at DEA offices at 255 E. Temple St. in downtown LA
Why: To call for an end to DEA tactics aimed at undermining state law
Who: Testimony will be heard from Los Angeles dispensary operators Virgil Grant (recently raided), Lisa Sawoya and Michael Levitt
"It's very difficult to comply with state law with the DEA continuing to raid legally-sanctioned dispensaries," said Virgil Grant, who had multiple dispensary locations raided last Thursday. "It's time for the Los Angeles City Council and other local governments end DEA interference."

Lisa Sawoya, who's dispensary was raided in July 2007, recently testified at a State Board of Equalization (BOE) hearing with other dispensary operators urging that state officials do what they can to end DEA raids. In the raid on Sawoya's dispensary, the DEA seized money set aside for payment to the BOE, a scenario decried by other victims of DEA raids. Advocates estimate that the approximately 400 dispensaries in California contribute at least $100 million in annual sales tax revenue to an ailing state budget. But that revenue stream is threatened by increased interference from the federal government.

At the behest of activists, the Los Angeles City Council is voting next week on a resolution to urge the federal government to end the tactics that have shut down dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries over the past two years. The city council resolution will be voted on at its April 2, 10am hearing at City Hall.

Enforcement tactics by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have had a devastating impact on dispensaries in California. In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries in at least 10 different counties across the state. Also, in 2007, the DEA launched a new tactic in its attempts to undermine state law by disseminating more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening the property owners with criminal prosecution and asset seizure if they continued to lease to dispensaries.

"One hundred million dollars annually in sales tax revenue is not small change," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the advocacy group organizing the testimony and rally. "By continuing to shut these facilities down, the federal government not only deprives patients from needed medicine, it also deprives the state of significant funds at a time of fiscal crisis."

The federal government's efforts to undermine California's medical marijuana law have not gone unnoticed by local and state lawmakers. Letters from concerned local officials in 2007 prompted U.S. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to issue a statement in December expressing his deep concern and calling for DEA oversight hearings. Since then, Mayors from Oakland and Santa Cruz, as well as the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have all registered their opposition to federal enforcement against medical marijuana. In addition, State Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced SJR 20 earlier this year, calling for an end to federal interference and urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with the compassionate use laws of California. Most recently, in February, former BOE Chair Betty Yee co-authored an opinion piece with Senator Migden harshly criticizing DEA tactics in California, emphasizing the harm to both patients and the state.

Further information:
ASA Fact Sheet on Escalation of DEA Raids: http://safeaccessnow.org/downloads/dea_escalation.pdf
ASA Fact Sheet on Sales Tax: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/sales_tax_fact_sheet.pdf
ASA Fact Sheet on Senate Joint Resolution 20, calling for an end to DEA interference: http://safeaccessnow.org/downloads/SJR_20_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Opinion piece by Betty Yee & Carole Migden: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/15/ED0UV1RNP.DTL

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