In what appears to be the latest move in an ever-escalating campaign of attacks against California medical marijuana dispensaries, the DEA Wednesday raided 10 Los Angeles-area dispensaries, seizing marijuana, marijuana products, cash, and two guns. The raids came the same day the Los Angeles City Council introduced an ordinance to regulate dispensaries in the city and approved a resolution calling on federal authorities to quit prosecuting medical marijuana providers operating legally under California law.
A DEA spokesperson in Washington told the Chronicle five arrests were made during the raids, but it appears those arrests were of people engaging in civil disobedience to protest the raids -- not dispensary owners or employees.
"Some people were arrested for civil disobedience after barricading the facility itself because federal agents were detaining people inside," said Kris Hermes, communications director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana defense group whose rapid response network brings out protestors in response to such raids. "We had at least a couple of hundred people very agitated by what the DEA was doing, and some of them decided to obstruct the agents. The DEA was prevented from being able to process those inside and therefore released them," he said.
City officials who that same day had introduced an ordinance calling for a moratorium on new dispensaries in the city while it drafts regulations governing their operation, but who also called on the DEA to quit prosecuting medical marijuana providers, also reacted angrily. City Councilman Dennis Zine, who authored the letter, called the agency "bullies" at a pre-scheduled news conference that took place as the raids were ongoing.
"I am greatly disturbed that the Drug Enforcement Administration would initiate an enforcement action against medical marijuana facilities in the city of Los Angeles during a news conference regarding City Council support of an interim control ordinance to regulate all facilities within the city," Zine said. "This action by the DEA is contrary to the vote of Californians who overwhelmingly voted to support medicinal marijuana use by those facing serious and life-threatening illnesses," he said. "The DEA needs to focus their attention and enforcement action on the illegal drug dealers who are terrorizing communities in Los Angeles."
Despite the angry protests of patients, activists and elected officials, the DEA was unmoved. "The DEA is required to enforce the Controlled Substances Act," replied tight-lipped spokesperson Rogene Waite when asked about the opposition the raids are engendering. "There has been no change in our policy," she said when asked if the raids signaled a new offensive.
But despite the DEA's protestations, a ramping up of DEA activity directed at dispensaries seems evident. Dozens of dispensaries have been raided this year, including 11 in Los Angeles in January. Hundreds of medical marijuana cases are now pending in the federal courts in California. Last week, the DEA and the Justice Department announced the indictments of four dispensary operators, two in the Los Angeles area, one in San Luis Obispo, and one in Bakersfield. And earlier this month, the DEA and the Justice Department unveiled a new tactic in their war on medical marijuana: Federal authorities in Los Angeles sent a letter to dozens of dispensary landlords warning them they faced seizure of their property or even criminal charges if they continued to rent to the dispensaries.
"The DEA appears to be intensifying its campaign against medical marijuana," said ASA's Hermes. "There are not only the increased raids here in Los Angeles, but also the threats to property owners who choose to rent to medical marijuana providers. This is tantamount to intimidation, and it's a last-ditch effort by the federal government to undermine the state's medical marijuana law."
"It is an escalation, and it's very frightening," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "They can't stop medical marijuana's momentum because truth, common sense, and decency are on our side, but in the meantime they can cause a lot of suffering for a lot of people."
For California NORML head Dale Gieringer, the raids are like the final twitches of a dying dinosaur's tail. "It's a rear-guard action by the DEA," he said. "They went after the heart of responsible medical cannabis activism by going after the California Patients and Caregivers group. That's where people met to deal responsibly with the dispensary issue. This is a slap in the face to Los Angeles, and I think people there are going to end up being as angry as they already are in Northern California," he predicted.
Still, said Gieringer, the raids won't stop the dispensaries. "There are already 400 of them across the state, maybe more, who knows?" he said. "If the DEA is trying to wipe out the dispensaries, they are now several years too late."
The battle between the federal drug enforcers and the people, patients, and elected officials of California over medical marijuana continues. Congress could have taken the wind out of the DEA's sails by passing the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would have cut off federal funding for the raids, but it chose not to Wednesday night, just hours after the latest raids took place. That means, at least for now, it's up to the people of California to protect themselves.
Medical marijuana supporters and fellow activists will be taking steps to do just that on Friday. ASA has called for demonstrations against the raids to occur across the state Friday morning. Civil disobedience has already broken out on Santa Monica Boulevard. Maybe there will be more to come.