As far her neighbours in the Los Angeles suburb of Lake Elsinore were concerned, Rebecca Kuzelka, 55, was an ordinary mother who ran a children’s day-care centre from her home. That was before 11.30pm on Wednesday when the bomb went off.
Residents on the quiet, tree-lined street in Riverside County later told police that they thought the loud bang was a thunderstorm. In reality Ms Kuzelka’s son, Benjamin, 23, had been making explosives, and had blown off one of his hands in an accident.
When police searched the house they found not only a stockpile of home-made bombs but also a small-scale commercial marijuana farm. An investigation into potential links with organised crime is under way.
The case is one of many that have resulted in the Los Angeles authorities losing patience with the semilegal status of marijuana in California — even amid efforts by supporters of the drug to make it fully legal in the state through a “ballot initiative” in 2010. One California assemblyman, Tom Amino, has even proposed taxing California’s pot trade, a move that could raise $1.3 billion (£800 million) for the near-bankrupt state in the first year.
While the farming and distribution of marijuana for medical use has been tolerated in California since the 1990s, it remains a crime under federal law. During the Bush Administration this frequently led to clashes between local police and the FBI, with the latter raiding dispensaries even though they were technically authorised by the state. President Obama vowed to end this stand-off, saying that “federal resources shouldn’t be used to circumvent state laws”. Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, has different ideas.
He argues that the vast majority of LA’s 800 or so dispensaries are now purely commercial operations, often providing cover for organised crime. This week he declared that virtually all of them were illegal, even under state law.
Mr Cooley’s hardline policy is based on a recent Supreme Court decision that he interprets as concluding that “over-the-counter” sales of marijuana are illegal. Owners of such dispensaries have been known to make as much as $2 million a year, and often boost revenues by selling humorously branded snacks and drinks such as Pot Tarts, Munchy Ways and Toka-Cola.
Supporters of legalisation are exasperated at the crackdown and argue that it will cause medical users to suffer and the drug back underground.
Ms Kuzelka and her two sons have been arrested on suspicion of manufacturing explosives, growing marijuana, and child endangerment.
October 10, 2009