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California In Hot Spot With Medical Pot


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They advertise in newspapers and on the Internet, where they supply their telephone numbers and addresses and offer free samples to new customers.

Finding medical marijuana vendors in California is about as easy as locating a Starbucks coffee shop.

But fresh raids by the federal government threaten to push this industry into the shadows 10 years after California legalized possession of marijuana for medical use.

"There's no way to prepare," said Joby, manager at a Los Angeles dispensary who declined to give his last name for fear of being raided.

"We're doing everything as legally as we possibly can but ... they (the federal government) are still saying we give too much," he added.

He said he has hundreds of regular customers, including one who is 67 and has been HIV positive for 17 years. With a doctor's prescription, they can possess up to a cup of cannabis -- or more if needed -- to relieve pain, nausea and psychological disorders.

The federal government argues that the legal alternative, a pill called Marinol made by a unit of Belgium's Solvay, works just fine, but activists say some people get little relief from the pill.

The U.S. Justice Department says possessing the drug for any purpose is illegal despite a dozen U.S. states allowing it for medical use.

Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, raided 10 dispensaries in Los Angeles, arrested five people and confiscated more than 240 kilograms (430 pounds) of marijuana. A similar size raid took place in January.


"There are ongoing investigations," said Sarah Pullen, a DEA spokeswoman in Los Angeles. "Anyone in possession or distributing (marijuana) is violating federal law."

She said investigations also show criminal activity, such a robbery and dealing, often occurs near the dispensaries.

California was the first state to legalize possession of cannabis for health purposes in 1996 after voters approved the Compassionate Use Act.

About 200,000 residents are such users, said Chris Hermes, spokesman of Americans For Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana grassroots group. An estimated 300,000 exist in the nation.

Registration is voluntary and only some 15,000 people in California have done so, the state health department said.

Making matters even more complicated, the local government has joined the fray even though its legal authority on the matter is shaky.

In the weeks after the latest raids, the Los Angeles City Council voted 10-2 in favor of a one-year moratorium on new dispensaries in the city and regulation of existing ones. And it urged the DEA to stop its raids.

There are more than 400 clinics in Los Angeles and some council members expressed concerns that the industry is growing out of control.

But doctors and clinic owners stand by their screening and adherence to state law.

Los Angeles doctor Dean Weiss, who is licensed to prescribe marijuana, said his office screens potential patients.

"We turn away half the people over the phone," he said.


While many of the clinics are well-marked and advertised, scores operate out of private homes or offices with no commercial signs.

The dispensaries often contain iron doors, bars or sophisticated security systems. Giant signs explaining the marijuana law decorate the walls. One facility warns customers of being banned for a year if they break the law.

According to sign-in sheets, dozens of people frequent the facilities every day.

"Everything is moving kind of smoothly but it is a little stressful just to know (raids are) happening," said Joe, another Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary manager who declined to give his full name.

But Hermes, the activist, said the raids are a menace to people who rely on safe access to medical marijuana.

"The DEA is using its power and influence and resources in such a way as to intimidate a whole population of people," Hermes said.

Joby said customers call after raids to ask if his dispensary is open. He worries that if he is raided, he'll be forced to close shop and his patients will also go into the shadows.

"People would just have to go back to the street and buy it from gangstas," Joby said, using the street slang for criminals. "If they had to go about getting it themselves, who knows what would happen to them."

News Mod: CoZmO - 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Reuters.com
Author: Reuters
Contact: ContactUs
Copyright: 2007 Reuters
Website: California in hot spot with medical pot
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