Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided another local medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco last week, just days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that the Obama administration would not target patients and providers in the 13 states with medical marijuana laws.
"We have a national directive from President Obama that policy has changed," said Shona Gochenauer, executive director of the patient advocacy group Axis of Love and chairperson of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's Cannabis Caucus. "The raid is a slap in the face to President Obama because they know he's a reformist who is going to take steps toward sensible drug policy."
During the late afternoon raid March 25, DEA agents entered Emmalyn's California Cannabis Clinic, located in the South of Market neighborhood at 1597 Howard Street, where they removed bins of marijuana plants, growing equipment, cash, and computers. The clinic was open for business at the time, and witnesses said some disabled patrons had to be helped to the floor.
The San Francisco Police Department and state law enforcement officials did not participate in the raid, and SFPD spokeswoman Sergeant Lyn Tomioka confirmed that local police were not notified in advance.
At the time of the raid, Emmalyn's was operating under a provisional permit while it took final steps to meet requirements for licensing by the San Francisco Department of Public Heath, as outlined in state law and city regulations.
No one was arrested during the action, and Emmalyn's has since reopened for business. The reason for the raid remains unclear, since no charges have been publicly issued and affidavits were still under court seal at press time.
"Based on our investigation, we believe there are not only violations of federal law, but of state law as well," DEA Special Agent Anthony Williams said in a prepared statement. "The investigation is currently ongoing."
Contrary to speculation suggesting state tax irregularities, Alan LoFaso, chief deputy to State Board of Equalization chairwoman Betty Yee, told advocates that the board has no outstanding tax complaints related to Emmalyn's and had "no involvement whatsoever" in the raid. Yee's office indicated that even if there were tax allegations, the BOE would not involve the DEA.
Added former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who is representing Emmalyn's, "There is no evidence that I'm aware of that my client is in violation of state or local law or is errant in paying sales tax to the state."
"Any violations of California's medical marijuana law should be the purview of local and state officials," said Kim Hermes with Americans for Safe Access. "Medical marijuana patients and providers deserve a chance to defend themselves under state and local law, which is not possible once the federal government gets involved."
Advocates spring into action
Within minutes of last week's raid, word spread throughout the advocacy community via text messages and e-mail, and people soon began to gather outside the building. Activists organized a noon rally the following day at the San Francisco Federal Building, which ended with a march to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-San Francisco) office.
"We wanted to focus on getting in contact with our political allies as soon as possible rather than just standing outside with signs," Gochenauer told the Bay Area Reporter .
On Monday, Gochenauer, Emmalyn's proprietor John Baumgartner, and members of the Patient Advocacy Network met with Pelosi's deputy director, Melanie Nutter, to discuss the raid and present a list of demands, including a federal injunction against any further "investigations, raids, arrests, seizures, or prosecutions" until a new DEA administrator is in place and new policies are formalized.
Advocates also remain concerned about the fate of individuals currently facing federal charges for providing medical cannabis, and demanded that charges be dropped if defendants already convicted under federal law are found to be in compliance with state regulations.
Advocates are particularly incensed that DEA appears to be unaware of – or deliberately ignoring – Holder's recent statements signaling a departure from the policies of the Bush and Clinton eras.
At a February 25 news conference, the newly appointed attorney general confirmed Obama's campaign promise that he would not be "using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." On March 18, Holder went further, telling reporters that the new policy is "to go after those people who violate both federal and state law."
"Wednesday's DEA raid was a clear step backward," said state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who recently introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana. "With the increasing violence along the Mexican border, the DEA should be focusing their efforts on fighting these dangerous cartels rather than sick people seeking compassionate care."
Last week, Ammiano's bill was moved to a two-year calendar, however, meaning that hearings won't take place on his proposal this year.
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Source: Bay Area Reporter
Author: Liz Highleyman
Contact: Bay Area Reporter
Copyright: 2009 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.
Website: Advocates Charge SF Pot Raid Defies Obama Policy Change