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Bungled DEA Raid Raises Troubling Questions

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
California NORML Release, Aug 31 2006 Yesterday's DEA raid at Trichome Healing Center in Van Nuys ended in a stand-down. No arrests were made. An undercover DEA team arrived without a warrant. One agent tried to gain entry with a bad ID, but was turned down. The agent blew his cool, a security guard saw his gun and thought he was a robber; a scuffle broke out, and other agents came to the rescue. After several hours, the DEA procured a warrant from a local judge. The DEA left the scene after midnight, but not before calling in a professional safecracker to clean out the premises. In the meantime, patient advocates were on hand protesting. Degee Coutee called an LAPD operator, who appeared unaware of the raid. LAPD arrived and reassured the crowd that they had a right to protest and take pictures. Aside from its comic incompetence, this raid raises troubling questions. For the past couple of years, it has typically been DEA policy not to raid medical marijuana dispensaries without support from the local police. The exception has been when a particular DEA investigation (such as a grow bust) has led them to a dispensary. It is possible that the DEA were acting in cooperation with rogue elements of the LAPD, such as the North Hollywood narcotics division, who have recently been hassling dispensaries. ( There is an unconfirmed rumor that officer John Smith of NoHO PD may have been present at the raid.) This could have gone on unbeknownst to the rest of LAPD. It is also possible that DEA had some particular lead that took them to Trichome Healing, but it seems doubtful that they would have used a warrantless undercover investigation of this kind to make the bust.. More disturbing is the possibility that this could be part of a wider DEA undercover operation aimed at penetrating and taking down the LA dispensaries. It would be a departure from recent policy for DEA to do so without support from local police and without evidence that the dispensaries are violating Prop. 215. (Note that the DEA were in fact trying to get Trichome Healing to violate 215 by selling without a valid recommendation). Whatever the truth, it is important the LA area residents organize & respond now to defend patients' access to medicine. There will be a public emergency meeting to address the situation at 4 PM this Saturday, Sept 2 at LA Patients and Caregivers Group, 7213 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood. Angelenos should call on the city council and mayor to stop arbitrary police raids and defend safe access by enacting reasonable city regulations to legally license dispensaries, as in West Hollywood and LA County. - D. Gieringer, Cal NORML PS: In a seemingly unrelated incident, the LAPD raided another patients' collective in Van Nuys at the same time as the Trichome Healing raid. Police cleaned out a storage room rented by the After Hours Collective, which is not a dispensary but a delivery collective serving over 100 patients. Police might have been tipped off by fire inspectors, who had visited the space earlier and seen some plants growing. Joey Naffah, director of Trichome Healing, says that he let the inspectors in feeling that everything was legal and within SB 420 guidelines. After the police came, they confiscated a score of plants and drilled into the collective's safe to remove a few pounds of medicine. - D. G. First hand report on the Trichome Raid from Weedtracker: Thc Raided I Was There For Part Of It What I understand to have happened before I arrived: In the early afternoon, on Wednesday August 30th, a DEA agent appeared at THC's door with a phony ID. THC's security guard spotted the forgery and refused entry to the DEA agent. Realizing this wasn't going to be as easy as he thought, the officer spoke the words "Don't hurt me" into his transmitter. This was apparently the signal for his fellow agents to follow him in. At no time was this DEA agent under any threat from THC or its security force, but, by characterizing his situation as urgent I'm sure he's provided a lovely excuse for exigent circumstances, thus justifying the initial lack of a warrent. My understanding is that they've already put out a press release claiming an imminent threat to the officer's safety justified their actions. They are lying. Hopefully THC's security system was beaming to remote locations and they've got the fact the officer was never in any danger right there on the security feed. The poor receptionist soon found herself facing not one, not two, but THREE loaded guns pointed at her face, this despite the fact she already had her hands up and could not possibly have been a threat to anyone's safety. Interestingly enough, one of the DEA officers was dressed enough like THC's security staff to lure people in. One of the people who got snagged was a driver for a vendor, who was delivering a shipment of edibles. This gentleman was hassled, and the edible shipment was seized by the DEA. We know this story to be true, because the person who manufactured the edibles came down and spoke to us about what had happened. Thankfully, they let the driver go. The guy was pretty brave, he actually requested the Feds return the edibles to him, which they of course, declined to do. To the best of my knowledge, no patients were detained or charged. However, the alert guard who spotted the forged ID was kept in the facility from the time the feds arrived until nearly 1 am in the morning, and we saw no food or water being delivered, so this gentlemen was given less consideration by his own government then the Geneva convention would have afforded him if he was a prisoner of war. My understanding was that he was cuffed during the episode. My god, could you imagine being in handcuffs for eleven hours? He must have been in agony. Degee got the call at CPG and started rallying the troops. Ana and Degee were already there when I arrived in the late afternoon. ASA put out an alert and Weedtracker picked it up. People began arriving, at the height I think there must have been at least fifty people. What Happened After I Arrived: Several dispensary owners closed immediately and brought their staffs. Alert participants, realizing it was the dinner hour went and got dinner for everyone and water and chips circulated. One gentleman arrived in a huge pickup truck with a couch in the back. Anyone who needed to rest had a couch they could use. Whenever the DEA poked their noses out of the door, we immediately began chanting and demonstrating. Because there were back and front entrances, people split into two groups watching both exits carefully. Photos were taken of DEA vehicles and the officers. As patients arrived we explained what was going on and asked them to post on Weedtracker, so others would know not to come down if they were looking for medicine. The media was out in force, and stayed with us for much of the time. One station did a live remote with all of us standing in the background. Much love to NBC, Fox and the gentlemen filming a documentary for sharing OUR side of the story. As the evening wore on a van arrived, containing several gentlemen. As it was obvious they were there to aid the DEA, we peacefully surrounded the van and began chanting, holding up our signs. They decided it might be expeditious to leave and did so. Boy, did THAT cheer us up. Shortly thereafter, the local constables arrived, went upstairs and spoke with the DEA. We asked as many questions of the police as we could, they were not very forthcoming, but did inform us we had the right to protest. More men in blue arrived, but other than forcing us to stay behind a police tape they were pretty polite. More time passed. Another vehicle arrived with more DEA helpers. This time, as our local men and blue were present, we were not able to surround the car. My understanding was that they were needed to crack open the safe. We waited and watched. At last the back door opened to the dispensary and the agents began loading cardboard boxes into the bevy of cars they'd brought with them, I believe Ana counted no less than eight cars. The police herded us as far away as they could, Degee and Ana really got in their faces about this, but it was either move or be arrested, the police explained to us, so we moved. But fear not, our voices were heard. "Theif!" we screamed. "Robbers!" "How does it feel to steal medicine from sick people? Your mother must be SO proud." Other less restrained remarks were also uttered. They left as quickly as they could, no doubt because it was after midnight and they wanted to leave as badly as the rest of us. The good news is that they didn't arrest the guards. These gentlemen, after being detained for what, twelve hours? then went about their business, securing the premises as best they could. We all crowded around the front door and gave them some love, they are the real heros of this story. Please everyone, there will be an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss what we can do to stop the DEA. It will be held at CPG beginning at 4 pm. If you are not a member of CPG just tell the guard at the door that you're there for the meeting. Dispensary owners, please come, if you cannot, please designate someone on your staff to attend and serve as your representative. Patients, if you can possibly attend, please come. The DEA has begun closing us down. We must all hang together now, or surely, we will hang separately. It's 3am now, I'm dead tired and hurt. Please forgive the grammar and spelling, the words are blurring on the page. -------------- California NORML (415) 563-5858 // [email protected] 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114 --------------
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