By Alfa · Jun 26, 2005 · ·
  1. Alfa

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal officials on Thursday said raids on pot clubs here were the first step in uncovering a major international drug operation.

    U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan said agents raided three pot clubs that operated as fronts for marijuana and Ecstasy trafficking. He warned that federal drug laws would be strictly enforced even in cities tolerant of medical marijuana.

    "We're empathetic to the ill and to the sick; however we cannot disregard federal law," Drug Enforcement Administration agent Javier Pena said.

    Twenty people were indicted on federal drug charges in court documents unsealed Thursday, and an arrest warrant has been issued for another. Two others face state drug charges, Ryan said.

    Following an investigation dubbed Operation Urban Harvest, officials searched homes and businesses throughout the Bay Area. They seized 9,300 pot plants worth more than $5 million, Ryan said. He said the pot clubs were a base of operation for a larger drug trafficking organization importing and selling marijuana and Ecstasy, and engaging in money laundering.

    Despite the city's recognition of medical-pot clubs as legal, San Francisco police participated in the investigation.

    Protesters said the arrests frightened patients.

    "I'm scared," said Kathleen Prevost, who said she uses marijuana to control her post-traumatic stress disorder. "All I want to do is have access to my medicine."

    Authorities said the Supreme Court decision that medical marijuana is illegal was not the impetus behind the busts. But they warned federal laws will be strictly applied.

    "There are some members of the public who think they can disregard the courts and Congress," Pena said. "The DEA will not be among them."

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  1. Alfa

    Arrests In San Francisco Tied To Alleged Drug-Trafficking Operation

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Three medical marijuana dispensaries and 23 other sites raided by federal agents Wednesday were part of a big trafficking operation that used sick people as a front for street sales -- illegal under both federal and state law, federal officials said Thursday.

    U.S. Attorney for Northern California Kevin Ryan said the raids were unrelated to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision authorizing federal agents to enforce the federal ban on marijuana even in states with medical marijuana laws. Rather, he said, the investigation -- dubbed "Operation Urban Harvest" -- has been under way for about two years.

    A Drug Enforcement Administration agent's search-warrant affidavit says an undercover agent in May bought 1,000 tablets of Ecstasy -- an illegal stimulant -- from one of the men arrested Wednesday.

    The affidavit also says the man, Enrique Chan, 26, of San Francisco, described to the undercover agent how he and his cohorts used medical marijuana dispensaries as a front for illegal marijuana sales.

    "Chan told the agent that he uses cannabis clubs as 'a backbone,'"

    the affidavit says. "So if it comes down to a battle in court, what are you going to do? You're going to bring in patients in court, like really sick patients with cancer, have them sit on the stand for you.

    And no jury is gonna try -- is gonna convict you."

    Federal agents Wednesday raided the Sunset Medicinal Resource Center on Judah Street, the Herbal Relief Center, a third club on Ocean Avenue and 23 other businesses and homes -- mostly in San Francisco, with a few on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. They carted away more than 9,000 marijuana plants, which Ryan said could be worth more than $5 million.

    Officials at Thursday's news conference said 50 Ecstasy tablets were seized at one of the dispensaries; other items seized from various sites included eight vehicles, three firearms, an unknown amount of cash, computers, records and cultivation equipment such as grow lights.

    Ryan said Wednesday's raids bring to 47 the total number of search warrants executed throughout the Bay Area during this two-year probe, including 27 indoor growing sites. About 8,500 plants had been seized before Wednesday.

    One affidavit released Thursday cites the San Francisco police's Nov.

    6, 2003, search of two Oakland warehouses containing marijuana-growing operations. The DEA joined that investigation, and an Oakland police informant a few days later linked those sites to Vince Ming Wan, 33, of San Francisco.

    An indictment handed up by a federal grand jury June 16 and unsealed Thursday charges 19 people with conspiracy to grow and traffic more than 1,000 marijuana plants; three people, including Chan, with conspiracy to possess and distribute Ecstasy; and two people with money laundering.

    The money-laundering count deals with using marijuana-trafficking proceeds, channeled through bank accounts, to pay rent on property where plants were being grown. But Ryan said there's evidence that at least some of the people in this case also were involved in an international bulk cash smuggling operation.

    Wan, whom the affidavits identify as the leader or among the leaders of the organization, is charged in a separate criminal complaint with conspiracy to grow and traffic marijuana.

    Federal agents arrested 13 people Wednesday; Wan and seven others are still being sought.

    Ryan refused Thursday to say whether he believes medicinal use often is used as a cover for illegal trafficking, or if this case is an exception.

    Javier Pena, special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, also balked at relating this investigation to the broader issue of medical marijuana: "We're here to talk about this case today, not hypotheticals."

    But when a reporter asked about medical marijuana patients' and providers' concerns, Pena replied, "Good, I'm glad they're concerned." He said while some may believe it's OK to disregard the Supreme Court's and Congress' decisions, "The DEA will not be among them."

    Dozens of medical marijuana advocates rallied on San Francisco City Hall's steps Thursday, protesting local law enforcement's cooperation with the investigation. Officials said no San Francisco police were present at Wednesday's raids, but Americans For Safe Access legal campaign director Kris Hermes said he recognized at least one SFPD officer at one of the raided dispensaries.

    Hermes said the sites raided and evidence seized makes him believe the DEA's true objective was to subvert medical marijuana.

    Bruce Mirken, the Marijuana Policy Project's communications director, took a more cautious tone. While he's "uneasy and distressed" to see California police working hand in hand with the DEA, he understands the concern about "shady people" using the state's medical marijuana law as cover for illegal trafficking.

    "We don't want to see patients exploited. ... We don't want to see Proposition 215, the laws of this state and this city, broken," he said.

    But the biggest obstacle to effective local regulation of medical marijuana clubs is the federal government's continued threat of prosecution, Mirken said. "The record-keeping that many want to see as part of a regulation program becomes nearly impossible if the DEA can use those records to prosecute providers and patients."

    San Francisco has roughly 35 dispensaries; city officials have enacted a moratorium on any new ones until the city works out a regulatory structure. City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a statement Thursday noting that one of the three dispensaries targeted by Wednesday's federal raids had opened since the moratorium was enacted, and so was in violation of city ordinance.
  2. Woodman
    I could see this happening after the US Supreme
    Court denied US States the right to determine their
    own end on issues of self medication.

    The spectral imaging system that I posted about
    here, years ago; it's largely funded by the Federal

    I dunno!
    I'm buzzed now and this week has seen true
    freedom take beating here in the US.
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