Putting some law enforcement muscle behind this month's words of warning from federal prosecutors that a new crackdown on medical marijuana distribution was getting underway, DEA agents late last week raided a model regulated medical marijuana grow in Northern California, a medical marijuana dispensary in Southern California, and a medical marijuana grow in Colorado.
But the operation raided Thursday, Northstone Organics in Mendocino County, has been touted as a model medical marijuana grow. It holds a Mendocino County sheriff's permit to grow the 99 pot plants seized and destroyed by the feds, pays an estimated $8,500 annually in fees to remain compliant, and has even had sheriff's deputies testify favorably about it in a state court case where Northstone drivers delivering medicine to patients were arrested in Sonoma County.
Northstone Organics founder and owner Matt Cohen told the Ukiah Daily News Friday that heavily-armed agents raided his home and property early Thursday morning, destroying plants and hauling off evidence, but not charging him with a crime.
"They destroyed our home and eradicated everything," Cohen said. "They came in, guns blazing. They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns."
Cohen said the smash and grab raiders included six DEA agents, a state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent, and a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy, "who didn't know what he was walking into here."
Northstone is a strict cooperative, growing the plants it distributes to members in the area, as well as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is fully compliant with California's medical marijuana laws.
"If we're not legal, nobody's legal," Cohen said. "We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation. We worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the US Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution."
The message the feds are sending? "Go back underground, I guess; make our community a less safe place to be," Cohen said.
The Northstone Organics raid was "shameful and despicable," said Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, which reported the raid as it was still going on Thursday morning. "The DEA is doing nothing but encouraging lawlessness and disobedience to the law, said Gieringer."This is a victory for the Mexican cartels."
A day earlier and several hundred miles to the south, DEA agents and Pomona police raided the Green Cross USA dispensary, seizing marijuana, marijuana edibles, and records. But unlike the Northstone Organics raid, the raid on Green Cross appears to have been instigated by local authorities, who called in the feds to help.
Pomona Police Capt. Paul Capraro told the Daily Bulletin that the dispensary owner and landlord had received threat letters from the US Attorney's office. The letters said "if they didn't close down they would be subject to criminal prosecution, civil prosecution, and property seizure," he said.
Pomona banned dispensaries with a March 2008 ordinance, and had cited the dispensary in March for operating without a business permit. The owner, Jeffrey Maul, was convicted of operating without a business license, but is appealing that conviction.
The joint city-DEA action sends a message to other dispensaries in Pomona, Capraro said. "Our message is simple, that dispensaries are not lawful businesses in Pomona."
But it's not just a local case, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "We seized contraband, but also gathered evidence for the ongoing investigation," she said, adding that arrests could be forthcoming and that the city and the DEA had worked together for months on the case.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, what originated as a local law enforcement raid against a medical marijuana grower who contracted to grow as part of a larger grow at Cherry Top Farms in Denver morphed during the day into a joint local-state-federal raid replete with carloads of DEA agents and US Attorney representatives.
"We are 100% compliant" with state medical marijuana laws, a Cherry Top Farms manager told Westword after the raid. "But when the feds walk in, they can do whatever the hell they want." Local police had issues with the contract grower who was the original target of the raid, the manager said. "They came to take care of him, but when they got here, they were unable to turn a blind eye, and they did a lot of damage," he complained.
When the first officers showed up late Thursday morning, "it was the Denver Police Department, and then it was the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Then there were the feds. When they got here, they decided they needed a search warrant for us, too," the manager explained. "They lined us all up and questioned us and took our phones and [state mandated ID] badges. Then they gave some of the option to leave, after they handed over their IDs. But a few of chose to stay, and we were forced to wait in a two-parking space area, probably 10 feet by 10 feet, from 11:00am to 11:00pm. They did let us go to the bathroom, but you definitely had to ask permission to take a piss."
The raiders cleaned out Cherry Top, the manager said. "They took all of our live plants, all of our medicine, all of our extracts, and all of our baked goods," plus at least one more thing. "We have these cute t-shirts, little tank-top titty shirts, and one of the female officers put one on and was dancing around. I said to one of the agents at the door, 'I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn't seem to be very professional.' And he said, 'It's been a long day. We're just trying to have some fun.'"
The t-shirt has vanished, the manager said. "It's not here. She took it."
After last week's threats from prosecutors in Sacramento, it now appears that the feds are backing up those threats with actions. The medical marijuana wars are heating up again.