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Arrests Follow Searches in Medical Marijuana Raids


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Federal agents executed search warrants at three medical marijuana dispensaries on Wednesday as part of a broad investigation into marijuana trafficking in San Francisco, setting off fears among medical marijuana advocates that a federal crackdown on the drug's use by sick people was beginning.
About 20 residences, businesses and growing sites were also searched, leading to multiple arrests, a law enforcement official said. Agents outside a club in the Ingleside neighborhood spent much of the afternoon dragging scores of leafy marijuana plants into an alley and stuffing them into plastic bags.

"The investigation led the authorities to these sites," the law enforcement official said. "It involves large-scale marijuana trafficking and includes other illicit drugs and money laundering."

In a separate investigation, a federal grand jury in Sacramento indicted a doctor and her husband on charges of distributing marijuana at the doctor's office in Cool, a small town in El Dorado County.

The doctor, Marion P. Fry, and her husband, Dale C. Schafer, were arrested at their home in nearby Greenwood and pleaded not guilty in federal court in Sacramento to charges of distributing and manufacturing at least 100 marijuana plants. The authorities said in a court document that Dr. Fry wrote a recommendation for medical marijuana to an undercover agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration even though there was a "lack of a medical record," and that her husband provided the agent with marijuana.

The raids and arrests were the first large-scale actions against marijuana clubs and providers since the Supreme Court upheld federal authority over marijuana on June 6, even in states like California, where its use for medicinal purposes has been legal since 1996. The raids involved agents from federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Secret Service.

"We will not turn a blind eye to serious and flagrant disregard of federal law," Gordon Taylor, an assistant special agent in charge of Drug Enforcement Administration office in Sacramento, said in a statement. "There may be those who think we can disregard the court and Congress. D.E.A. will not be among them."

The raids angered and alarmed advocates of medical marijuana, some of whom stood on the sidewalk outside the clubs in San Francisco as federal agents worked inside.

"This is an affront to patients and should not be happening," Kris Hermes, legal director of Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group, said outside a storefront club that nearby residents said was used to grow marijuana not distribute it.

Mr. Hermes said he could not say if the raids were a result of the Supreme Court ruling, but called it "unacceptable" that federal agents were accompanied by the San Francisco police because the city several years ago declared itself "a safe haven" for medical marijuana users.

Several blocks away, agents seized computer records, medical files and marijuana plants at the Herbal Relief Center on Ocean Avenue. A security gate across the entrance had been pulled open, and a lock lay cut open on the sidewalk.

"They came here before we even opened," said Van Nguyen, 27, who said the dispensary had been in operation about five years and had the records of several thousand patients.

A spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, Sgt. Neville Gittens, said in a statement that its officers "did not take part in any investigation of these clubs or take any enforcement action against these clubs."

Even before the Supreme Court ruling, many cities, including San Francisco, had begun to crack down on the clubs, which have proliferated in recent years and generally operate without regulation.

Though the authorities would not say how the three clubs raided in San Francisco were tied to the accusations of drug trafficking, the police in San Francisco have complained that some of the 40 or so clubs in the city are little more than fronts for drug dealers.

Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco County supervisor who favors the use of marijuana for medical purposes but wants the city to regulate the clubs strictly, said the raids reinforced the need for oversight.

"We do not want bad apples to ruin something that Californians and San Franciscans overwhelmingly voted for and support," Mr. Mirkarimi said.

Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the federal investigation reinforced the importance of "trying to protect the legitimate uses of medicinal marijuana in the state."

Source: New York Times (NY)
Author: Dean E. Murphy
Published: June 23, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
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