In the aftermath of their October 25 raid on the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Cooperative (http://www.lacbc.org), a squeaky-clean model co-op distributing medical marijuana to 960 rigorously screened patients in full compliance with state law, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration are openly admitting that they have begun a new offensive against medical marijuana in California. For the feds, emboldened by last May's Supreme Court ruling effectively barring distribution through cooperatives, the move is an attempt to impose federal drug laws on maverick states which allow medical marijuana.
They've said as much in the pages of the New York Times this week. Referring to the LACRC raid, Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden told the Times: "The attorney general and the administration have been very clear. We will be aggressive. The recent enforcement is indicative that we have not lost our priorities in other areas since September 11," she said, adding that the department made no distinction between medical marijuana and other illegal drugs.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokeswoman Rogene Waite was tight-lipped when she spoke to DRCNet. "DEA policy has not changed," she said, "marijuana is illegal -- that has not changed -- and it is our job to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. Waite declined to offer an explanation as to why federal raids were occurring now, for the first time in three years. Nor did the DEA spokeswoman care to say whether the campaign against medical marijuana would spread to the seven other states whose voters have chosen to allow the practice. "The DEA does not discuss its plans," she said. "We are a law enforcement agency. It would not be advisable for us to tip our hand one way or the other."
Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML (http://www.canorml.org), doesn't need a DEA flack to know which way the wind blows. "In my view, this is Armageddon time for medical marijuana in California," Gieringer told DRCNet. "This is clearly just the latest step in an action that will go further than this. We have all sorts of evidence that a crackdown is pending in Northern California as well. We're getting reports of increased surveillance up there."
Nor does Gieringer have to look to the future for evidence of the offensive. Beginning in mid-September, the DEA raided Cool, California, physician and medical marijuana patient Mollie Fry's clinic and home, seizing thousands of patient records and leaving the petite, 60-something cancer survivor handcuffed on the floor of her home for hours. The DEA also hit Lynn and Judy Osburn, long-time Ventura County medical marijuana providers for the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center (LACRC). On October 4, more than two dozen DEA investigators, assisted by Ventura County sheriff's deputies, uprooted more than 200 plants destined for LACRC patients.
In neither the Fry case nor the Osburn case did federal authorities make any arrests. They acted in a similar fashion in West Hollywood on October 25, swooping down on the LACRC, destroying its garden, seizing its equipment and records, but failing to arrest anyone. But there was one big difference in Los Angeles. Instead of support from local law enforcement officials, the DEA ran into immediate and heated opposition from West Hollywood city officials, as well as demonstrators in the street. More ominously for the feds, local law enforcement officials pointedly refused to cooperate in the raid.
That was some solace to LACRC main man Scott Imler, though not much. "The local sheriff's commander refused to allow the deputies to participate in the raid, and I appreciate that," he said. "But the US Attorney is threatening to prosecute," he told DRCNet. "I hope we're not going to federal prison."
But prison isn't Imler's main concern at the moment. "Our immediate disaster is with our members," he said. "After only five days, people are already getting sick, people are already losing weight. We're not a black market operation, and they took both our gardens in the last month. We don't have any marijuana at this point, and we can't go out and buy it because of cost and safety," he added.
"Why is America wounding its own like this is the midst of everything that's going on? Now we have to worry about Osama bin Hutchinson," he said. "How does the Department of Justice have the resources to go after sick people right now? Even if they don't have a heart, how can they justify spending their time and resources on this?"
That the DEA went after Imler and the LACRC suggests that in the eyes of the feds, no medical marijuana operation can pass muster. Imler has long been identified as a medical marijuana purist loathe to mix medical and recreational use at the co-op or in public discourse, and he has taken extreme pains to work with state and local officials in developing operating protocols, not only for the LACRC but as a model for other locales. Unlike the six co-ops in the Oakland Cannabis Co-op case decided by the Supreme Court, which had all been infiltrated by at least one federal narc, Imler's LACRC prided itself on never being fooled by the feds.
"They've never managed to sneak anyone through," Imler chuckled. "I guess they had to bust us to show that even a good, clean operation isn't safe. We haven't hidden anything from anybody. We even applied for a DEA license in 1998; they came and inspected us. We have excellent relations with local authorities. The Los Angeles county sheriff has called what we do a heroic endeavor," Imler explained. "We wanted to be Boy Scouts, but they still got us."
California NORML's Gieringer agreed. "They couldn't have picked a club that tried harder to operate within the law," he said. "He operated in good faith. He let federal inspectors look around. He gave the government the evidence it needed for the raid," said Gieringer.
"This will be a crucial test case -- if it goes to court," Gieringer continued. "There have been no charges filed yet, and that fits the pattern we've seen so far. They just take down the operation without charging anyone, so they don't have to worry about getting a conviction," he said. "But now, it's getting to the point where if they don't file, they start to look silly. We need a case, we need to win in federal court," he added.
For both Imler and Gieringer the raid marks a new phase of life in post-Proposition 215 California. "This is a new offensive, no doubt about it," said Gieringer, "and people here are really outraged."
"It's time to crank up the political and lobbying efforts again," said Imler. "Our lawyers are working with the city and the sheriff's department on our defense and on possible civil actions. We got complacent as thousands of patients were able to get what they needed, but now we have an awesome legal and political battle ahead of us. But we have been aboveboard and we're not going to go furtively into the shadows now. They won't turn us into drug dealers and criminals. A thousand or so people will suffer because of this raid, and some will die, but we will not go to the black market."
The LACRC and its supporters will be holding a protest at the center at 5:00pm PST, Tuesday, November 5, at the LACRC, 7494 Santa Monica Blvd. The event was originally scheduled as a celebration of the fifth anniversary of the passage of Prop 215. Another rally will be held in San Francisco, at the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant St., and will include San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.