After the Supreme Court ruled against
Angel Raich and Diane Monson in early June, clearing the way for the
federal government to enforce federal pot laws in medpot states, many
people sought to "calm" medical patients, growers and providers.
attorney general, medical cannabis advocates, and even the DEA said
that the feds had no intention of making massive attacks against
Activists who spoke to Cannabis Culture,
however, warned that DEA raids were sure to come, and criticized those
in the cannabis community who said that even after the ruling, "nothing
Well, it's changed.
This week, DEA storm
troopers swooped down on San Francisco, raiding at least three medical
marijuana dispensaries and arresting 14 people out of 20 charged in a
federal indictment that claims medical cannabis clubs are organized
crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering operations with links to
Oakland warehouses containing supersize cannabis gardens.
raids raise several troubling issues that are unlikely to be resolved
soon. One issue is that local San Francisco law enforcement agents
participated in the raids, and the investigations that led to the
raids. Although reports say local police did not enter the three clubs
and actually make arrests, local police did admit to being in on the
busts and assisting in the arrest of suspects.
The raids may
well have originated in investigations by San Francisco police and
other local officers, who have busted dozens of indoor
marijuana-growing operations in the Sunset District and across the bay
in Oakland in the last year. Authorities hinted that the locals called
in the DEA to carry out this week's raids.
This could violate
the letter and spirit of city ordinances that prohibit San Fran cops
from enforcing federal medical marijuana laws in a city known to be the
most pot-friendly city in the US. During the Dennis Peron years, when
massive medpot clubs openly existed without much problem, San Francisco
politicians and even some members of the law enforcement community
hinted that local police would literally go to war against the DEA if
DEA tried to invade San Francisco to arrest medpot providers, growers,
But these aren't the Peron years anymore. This
week, federal and local agents hit cannabis clubs on Ocean Avenue in
the Ingleside neighborhood and Judah Street in the Inner Sunset
district. Published reports indicate that people who lived and worked
near the clubs had not complained about them.
In police state
tactics typical of the US federal government, which routinely uses
secret trials, detentions, and sealed indictments, DEA refused to tell
journalists during the raids about the indictment that led to the raids.
Hilary McQuie, spokeswoman for the medpot advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access
in Oakland, said the raids and allegations of organized crime might be
a smokescreen to obscure a federal attack on bona fide medpot clubs.
'organized crime' brings up visions of violent activity, but if all
they are supporting is the sale of marijuana, police can call that
organized crime," McQuie said. "They will need to show there's
distribution outside the dispensaries. I want to wait and see."
raids took on the drama of a television crime movie as dozens of
military-equipped DEA agents, along with Internal Revenue Service
spooks, cut the lock off the door of the Herbal Relief Center on Ocean
Street, and then ransacked the establishment, carrying away dozens of
marijuana plants, heat lamps and generators.
A man outside the store identified himself as Van Nguyen and said he had owned the business for more than five years.
run a service," said Nguyen, a City College business student who for
some reason was not arrested in the raid on his club. "I am definitely
worried, but I want to make sure the message is out and the patients
are taken care of."
Nguyen says his club was a legitimate source of medicine for 2,000 medical marijuana patients.
have a couple of people in that group who are dying, and they won't be
getting their marijuana on Monday," he said. He denied that the club
was a front for organized crime. "I have nothing to do with that at
all. I make sure the patients in this neighborhood are well taken care
The raids drive home the changes and uncertainties
wrought by the Raich decision. Since then, Oregon briefly suspended and
then re-opened its medical cannabis card program. Some medpot
dispensaries in California and other medical cannabis states
voluntarily closed, fearing federal raids. Cities that had established
municipal guidelines allowing medical cannabis clubs began dismantling
those guidelines, which will lead to a ban on clubs.
Francisco government officials had already begun to attack medical
cannabis, passing an ordinance in April that put a moratorium on new
clubs, and attempted to enforce or create business licenses and other
regulations for clubs, which had been operating without authorization
or scrutiny from the city.
Reports indicated that the city had at least 45 marijuana dispensaries before the moratorium and the Raich ruling.
Fran officials now say there are 35 clubs known to the city, but that
there are likely to be dozens more operating under the radar.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and other hardline anti-cannabis politicians
and residents have demanded that the city close or more closely
regulate cannabis clubs. He wants to follow the example of Oakland,
which arbitrarily limits the number of cannabis clubs that can exist in
the city. Elsbernd wants a maximum of only eight cannabis clubs in San
Francisco; he also wants club owners and operators to undergo an
application and regulation process similar to that used for liquor
licenses and bars.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, also supports stricter regulations.
absence of laws only puts out a welcome mat for potential problems," he
said. "That's how we got to the place where we are today."
Gerardo Sandoval, whose district includes two of the raided clubs,
voiced the suspicions of many San Francisco cannabis advocates,
wondering if the raids are "a pretext to meddle in San Francisco's
well-established medical marijuana policies."
clear the Bush administration is not very happy about San Francisco's
efforts," Sandoval said. "If there's money laundering or organized
crime involved, then by all means we welcome federal law enforcement.
But I have to ask myself, 'Why now?'"
"It's not an attack on
medical marijuana," responded an anonymous DEA spokesperson. "This is
an organized crime group that is using the whole pot club thing as a
Medical cannabis grower-patient Chris M. told Cannabis Culture
that the federal raids were anticipated, and the patients are going to
become increasingly militant if the city doesn't stand down the feds.
lot of us are already dying, very ill, vomiting, wasting away, in pain,
you name it," he said. "We don't have much to lose. We're ready to die
anyway. There's talk of having terminally ill patients camp out at the
dispensaries and get into it with any feds who come in. It's time for
direct action. We've tried to believe in democracy by counting on the
voters and the courts. There are no rights in this country. It's
obvious that now we have to fight the DEA face to face, and if they
kill us, what's the difference; without our medicine, we are already