Washington state drug enforcement agents raided the headquarters of CannaCare, an Everett-based medical marijuana advocacy and support group Wednesday. Agents with the federally-funded West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team seized what they said was more than a thousand marijuana plants, as well as computers containing medical records and other personal information on about 200 people authorized to use the herb under state law. No one has yet been arrested or charged with a crime.
It is the second raid in a week at addresses linked to CannaCare. Last week, agents raided the Renton home of John Worthington, an associate of CannaCare head Steve Sarich, a prominent Washington medical marijuana advocate who, according to the Seattle Times, provoked police by "aannouncing that CannaCare will provide pot plants to patients."
In the Renton raid, police seized six marijuana plants, and Worthington screamed foul. "They went after me because I'm an activist, and I've been terrorized out of growing," Worthington told the Post-Intelligencer. "I can't have my kids frisked like they're criminals. That was disgusting. I'm not Al Capone -- I'm a dad."
Sarich, too, remains unrepentant. "Since they don't like medical marijuana, this is an attack on the people that support it," Sarich told the Seattle paper while insisting he is no drug dealer. According to Sarich, only a few ounces of marijuana were found in the raid, and most of the seized plants were unrooted clones and starter plants. The slightly more than $1,000 cash police seized was to pay his utility bill, he claimed.
But the network of patients around CannaCare and local privacy watchdogs are concerned about patient records falling into the hands of police. "Who knows what they're doing with our information?" said Steve Newman, who has multiple sclerosis and has been using marijuana, obtained through CannaCare, for two years. "It makes me concerned -- really, really concerned. But we're pretty helpless. Nobody can say much about it," he told the Post-Intelligencer.
"CannaCare had a lot of records related to patients they were providing cuttings for," said Alison Chin Holcomb, director of the Washington ACLU's Marijuana Education Project. "We are not real comfortable with law enforcement having the ability to disseminate information from people's medical records," she told Drug War Chronicle.
The group may move to restrict police access to those records, Holcomb said. "We're investigating what legal grounds we might have for requesting that a judge issue a protective order, or maybe even an order sealing those records," she said. "We want to minimize patient exposure."
But if CannaCare and Sarich were providing marijuana to more than one patient, there could be a tough legal battle ahead of them, Holcomb said. "Under Washington law, a designated caregiver can provide for only one patient. If it turns out he is providing to large numbers of people, that could be a real problem for him."