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Feature: More California Medical Marijuana Raids: The New Status Quo?

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #456)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

At least five California different medical marijuana dispensaries have been raided in the last ten days, bringing the total so far this year to more than 30, according to medical marijuana supporters. But that means nearly 200 existing dispensaries have not been raided, suggesting that what is occurring is more like a low-level battle of attrition than an all-out assault by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its allies among recalcitrant state and local law enforcement and elected officials.

Here is the latest casualty list:

photo courtesy ASA
Last Wednesday in Modesto, one day after the city of Modesto voted to repeal a municipal provision exempting nonprofits from its ordinance banning dispensaries, DEA agents raided the nonprofit California Healthcare Collective, one of only two remaining dispensaries in the area. A DEA spokesperson told Drug War Chronicle this week the Modesto Police Department began investigating the dispensary, then handed the case over to the feds. Four people were arrested on federal marijuana distribution charges.

The following day, DEA and local law enforcement agents raided the North Valley Discount Caregivers dispensary in Grenada Hills and seized all the medicinal cannabis at the site. The two operators were arrested on state marijuana charges.

That same day, Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputies raided the 2816 Collective in a rural area near Modesto using a state search warrant. Police seized about two pounds of dried marijuana and patient files. The collective had closed the day before because of the Modesto raid. With both California Healthcare in Modesto and the 2816 Collective gone, the entire region is now destitute of dispensaries, leaving hundreds of patients in the lurch.

On Tuesday, the DEA raided at least eight locations in the San Francisco Bay area, seizing more than 12,000 plants, $125,000 cash, and a fancy sports car. Despite somewhat hysterical initial reports in the local media, all the raids were connected with the New Remedies dispensary in San Francisco, which involved the same people involved in Compassionate Caregivers, which was raided by the DEA in Los Angeles in May 2005, when the feds found more than $300,000 in cash, sparking the investigation that culminated in the Monday raids.

On Wednesday, DEA and local law enforcement officers raided the Palm Springs Caregivers dispensary in Riverside County, seizing medicinal cannabis, but not making any arrests at the time. The raid came one day after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to ban dispensaries in unincorporated county areas, which does not include Palm Springs, and one month after Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask issued a white paper arguing that dispensaries are illegal under both state and federal law.

The raids triggered the Emergency Response Project of the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, which brought out protestors last Friday at DEA headquarters in Los Angeles, as well as Modesto, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Ana. Demonstrators also greeted the Tuesday raids in San Francisco, and more actions are set for today.

"With our emergency response program, every time there is a federal raid -- and we can usually find that out in a matter of hours -- we activate our local response, as we did in San Francisco this week," said ASA's Caren Woodson. "But now, we're activating the national emergency response for Friday. It's a call-in day. We are urging everyone to call in to DEA administrator Karen Tandy and let her know how they feel about these raids. Karen Tandy has a lot of discretion, and she needs to exercise it."

While ASA is leading the immediate battle, it is not alone among movement groups in trying to figure out just what is going on. According to the DEA, it's nothing special, just enforcing the federal marijuana laws. "The two cases in which our office was involved, Modesto last week and here in the Bay area this week, were both the culmination of long-term investigations," said San Francisco DEA public information officer Casey McEnry. "In Modesto, the Modesto police began investigating and then passed it on to us, and with New Remedies, we had served warrants on them as Compassionate Caregivers in LA in May 2005, and we learned in December 2005 that they had changed their name and set up shop in Oakland," she told Drug War Chronicle.

"We can't read the DEA's mind, but there is no sign of an all-out offensive," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "These guys in San Francisco were already in the crosshairs -- they were victims of their own success -- but there are certainly plenty of other places operating openly. If the DEA wanted to, it could go after them with little effort, but it seems like a decision has been made not to do that."

photo courtesy ASA
The DEA's McEnry did not respond directly to questions about whether the agency had taken a political decision to not aggressively crack down on the state's roughly 200 dispensaries, but she did issue a warning. "The magic plant count number is zero, the distribution number is zero if you want to be safe from us possibly knocking at your door," she said. "Anyone who cultivates or distributes marijuana is at risk."

While that may be bluster given the agency's limited resources, it is worrisome for dispensaries and their supporters. "These state-certified legal cannabis dispensaries look to the DEA like drug distribution havens," said Woodson. "If a dispensary is serving 150 people a day, the operator looks like a drug kingpin to them. They're like sitting ducks, they're listed in the phone book. And now some of these people are facing very severe sentences, some of up to life in prison.

It isn't just the DEA. "We have sporadic local police involvement in raids, mostly in counties where local government is not supportive, like Modesto or Riverside County, which is where Palm Springs is," said Mirken. "That tells us it is really important that local governments understand Proposition 215 and hear from their constituents that access to medicinal cannabis is important."

"They're picking locations where local decision-makers don't have a friendly attitude," said ASA's Woodson.

"These raids are really a drop in the bucket when you have 200 dispensaries out there," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, "but we don't want to see them spread. I fear this is going to be a battlefield for awhile here until we come up with a regime that allows for better systems of dispensaries and production. The lack of a legal production system causes a lot of problems, and everybody in the dispensary business is operating in the black or grey market and vulnerable to legal uncertainties."

While medical marijuana dispensaries remain numerous in Los Angeles and the Bay area, the raids are having a very real impact on availability in some areas of the state. "In San Diego, a few months ago there were a dozen dispensaries in operation, but after the raids, they're gone and access to medical cannabis is largely gone," said Woodson. "There are only a handful of delivery services now, and they can't handle the demand. It's a similar situation in Modesto -- there aren't any dispensaries in the area now."

"I think it's going to continue for the short term, until something happens politically to change the dynamic," said Mirken. "That might not be until there is regime change in Washington, and maybe not even then, depending on how smart the Democrats are. It doesn't seem like anything is going to change drastically in California in the near term. Most people in the state government some local governments at least pay lip service to supporting Proposition 215, but we haven't seen much strong action from state officials with the clout to try to stop the raids. I really don't see anything moving on the state level," he said.

ASA's Woodson wasn't quite ready to give up on state government. "Here in California, we need to see more state officials standing up and denouncing these raids," she said. "The state legislature as a whole needs to take this issue on and create guidelines or craft prohibitions directing state and local law enforcement not to participate in these medical marijuana raids. The legislature is not doing its job if it is not properly protecting patients."

Another thing the legislature could do is restate and expand on its support for Proposition 215. "They should re-codify it and take a stand against the federal raids," said Woodson. "And they should demand our federal delegation pay more attention to this issue. All Diane Feinstein can talk about is meth; she and Barbara Boxer haven't raised a finger to help on medical marijuana. We would also like to see more law enforcement officers trained on the medical cannabis issue."

"California will do nothing statewide until federal law changes," predicted Gieringer. "I see this pattern of sporadic raids continuing until there is a change in the federal law. Two or three years ago, I would have said we were in mortal danger, but in fact, we've had nothing but an increase in the number of dispensaries even after we lost two Supreme Court decisions. Somehow I have a hard time believing that this is going to be reversed, especially given what happened in LA. Two years ago, there weren't any clubs in LA, now there are a hundred. It looks to me like the nation's second largest city is firmly infected with dispensaries. When it was just the Bay area, I was concerned the feds could shut it down, but they blew their chance. Now all they can do is bust someone every once in awhile and try to tarnish the image of the dispensaries, but they are here to stay."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

im 16 and i have using marijuana for the past 3 years now and i have to say its been wonderful ! i have nothing say about the raids really mostly because i dont get my weed from there. so yeah.............. gnr rules

Fri, 10/06/2006 - 2:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

See, in order for regulation to work, 16 year olds cant be smoking weed. Its got to be regulated similarly to alcohol or tobacco. Hopefully once this issue is settled, this above child will not have access to marijuana from his local cronie. The thought of a 13 year old getting high instead of playing little league baseball is apalling to me. This is why i fight for regulation. I miss little league baseball.

Fri, 10/06/2006 - 2:33pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

if in fact he was 16 and not a troll...

Children would not be able to get medical marijuana from a dispensary unless they had a demonstrated medical need. It is possible that they might.
The thought of a 16 year old getting high is not nearly distressing to me as the thought of a 16 year old getting drunk and behind a wheel.

Fri, 10/06/2006 - 7:04pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As a father I am 100% in aggrement with you that 13 or even 16 is too young for someone to be smoking marijuana. But as a marijuana smoker i see this as the reason why it should be taken out of the black market and regulated. (I think thats what you were saying as well just wanted to throw my thought in too.)

Dealers don't card or care how old you are. How I long to be asked for ID when i buy marijuana it would be a dream come true.

Sat, 07/26/2008 - 8:18pm Permalink
molly (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

i am 16 and i think its alright to smoke weed..i love it..i stress a lot so when i smoke i feel much better..instead of having all this anger,like beating up some one for no reason,cutting my self,always having a fit i just smoke that weed and feel much better stress free and i think its OK to smoke weed when your only mom know how i feel,so she understand when i smoke weed.but i think i need a cannabis card.but dont know how to get one.

Thu, 07/09/2009 - 3:46am Permalink
Anonymous420 (not verified)

In reply to by molly (not verified)

hey kid if u wanna get a card. u have to have a medical issue for it that has a verification from a certified california physician. then u and mother can go get evaluated, and get your card or no.

Mon, 08/23/2010 - 1:20am Permalink
UzzBaldrin (not verified)

Patients, some in wheelchairs with debilitating symptoms are the real target of the DEA raids. Why doesn't the DEA go after the 12-20 year olds that consume 20 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the US? The carnage caused by this illegal usage group is far more dangerous and costly than a wheelchair patient using cannabis.

Fri, 10/06/2006 - 2:54pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Is there a list someplace of the pro prop. 215 candidates. I would like to know who "not" to vote for in November.

Fri, 10/06/2006 - 2:57pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

For a number of years I have been proposing the following:

The "Marijuana Re-Legalization Policy" (MRP) Project
Pronounced "Merp Project"

As a long term activist I really believe that this IS the solution. I look forward to the day when our hemp festivals celebrate our liberation from these pointless drug laws on Cannabis.

Bruce W. Cain
Editor, New Age Citizen

Mon, 10/09/2006 - 9:45am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Medical marijuana patients account for about 10% of California marijuana users, suggesting that tax revenues from a legal recreational marijuana market would skyrocket into the low billions of dollars each year. The state is currently spending about $160 million a year to arrest, prosecute, and imprison marijuana offenders, and not collecting any tax revenue from recreational sales.

State officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens they represent. This report makes clear just how miserably California officials are shirking that responsibility.

Fri, 01/19/2007 - 6:57am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello all, I am an Eagle Scout and I have worked with Handicapped Children because I could. I have worked with little
Children and seen their eyes 'light up' when they learn something and come of understanding. I qualify for a wheelpower
chair and I have one. I take in trash cans for neighbors, smile and wave and all that, say Hello, inquire of health. I have
influenced City Governments from my living room. I suffered a debilitating Motorcycle Accident in 1981 and I died for
1hr47mn flat line. I now smoke marijuana daily to enhance my appetite and social interaction. I smoke a different
'blend' at night to relax and promote sleep the night through. My main sundry is a blend I use to organize my thoughts
and initiate action. I was so wrong for so long in the eyes of my mom and when the law passed CA215 She took me
for my first Doctor Interview to get a 'recommendation'. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! Now that it is legal... Thanks, Mom!
I have a mental challenge from Severe Brain Trauma achieved in my ' 81 accident. I am paranoid, and people look at me
out the side of their faces. I walk just fine. Oft times people are F.I.N.E. I went to jail(county) because I wanted to 'see'
what that place was where everybody's afraid to go...Once your out they don't want to let go! So I've been more than once.
Unless proscribed as a program of therapy and healing marijuana should not be used until the age of 25 or thereabouts
as the mind expanding qualities are inhibited in younger less developed minds, this from Stanford or Harvard or USC
or or or, So slap me in the face! I get mixed up sometimes. but it is there, the information, for the public, if you're
clever. Salvia is sold over the counter as incense and WOW! who cares about pot if I was into the Euphoric effects.
I use marijuana every day to entice side effects, eating, sleeping, socialization, productivity, oh, I am a DAD as well.
And a Master. And a Husband,smoker, toker, midnight joker?heehee Party on Garth....

Fri, 03/30/2007 - 8:38am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I have many medical problems then i will not get into on here. im 16, and ever since ive gotten marijuana ive been having some what of pain free days in my life, i no longer wake up hating my life and wishing i was dead. i think ur wrong, a child should be aloud marijuana if needed. 13 IS NOT to young! ive been in pain nearly my entire life, i cant remeber a day b4 marijuana that i was happy! i believe teenagers should be aloud THE SAME MEDICAL TREATMENT AS ADULTS! WE HAVE THE SAME MEDICAL PROBLEMS FOR THE MOST PART AND ITS WRONG THAT U BELIEVE CHILDREN SHOULD BE DOING SOMETHING ELSE. though, if a person isnt in pain or doesnt have a reason, they shouldnt abuse medical marijuana or any marijuana for that matter.

Sun, 04/08/2007 - 4:50pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am unable to locate the 1 medical marijuana dispensary left in San Diego County. I know they were closed down by law enforcement, but was told that 1 has reopened, but I can't find it on the internet.

Thank you for responding, even a reference of dispensary/locations will help. I have an ID card finally, and can't drive up to LA for weeks.

Thanks for your kind considerations re this matter.


Thu, 07/19/2007 - 3:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Just load the 16 year old kid up on Ritalin ..a pharmaceutical manufactured speed.should be much better for a kid than a natural herb like Marijuana...right?

Fri, 09/28/2007 - 12:34am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Detective Matt zelinsky stumbled upon the grow system and illegally entered the property and stole and took marijuana plants and marijuana and never reported it to his higher people. He is a crooked detective out of control. They later started herassing and stole many things from ....... in the future. They attacked..... and choked ...... out till .. almost died. When .. woke up in handcuffs ... i saw and dad screaming he is not a criminal don't hurt him. ... suffering and almost dying in front of you're parents and girlfriend for growing a plant is not justice. .... Grew marijuana and was almost put to death for it. Because the police were mad i got a mistermeaner and no jail at all... I have many medical conditions and the truth set me free. AND THE TRUTHH DID SET ME FREE... BUT I AM EMOTIONAL SCARED BY OFFICE WIZNER THAT ALMOST TOOK MY LIFE ON THAT MORNING IN FRONT OF MY HOME AND IN FRONT OF MY WHOLE FAMILY. INTERNAL AFFAIRS STARTED INVESTIGATION, BUT LATER DROPPED THE INVESTIGATION DUE TO LACK OF EVIDENCE THEY SAY... NO JUSTICE ... BUT I HAVE MY LIFE AND MY FREEDOM..

Mon, 05/26/2008 - 4:19am Permalink

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