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Medical Pot Dealers Protest


The lifesaving treatment Jorge Ceballos undergoes three times a week, three hours a day leaves him drained and pained. And the best medicine is marijuana.

"I don't use this to just get high," he said. "It's medicine for me. It's no joke."

At just 24, Ceballos' kidney is near failure. For three years he has had to undergo dialysis to stay alive. When he can't stand the treatment, he swallows two pills filled with the plant's psychoactive chemical.

And for a few moments this week, he thought his lifeline might be cut off.

On Wednesday, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided 11 medical marijuana clinics, seizing 5,700 pounds of pot and shaking up the pro-cannabis community.

In a move of solidarity Thursday, more than a dozen of the San Fernando Valley's 53 dispensaries closed down for the day as dozens of patients and shopowners protested the move in West Hollywood.

"It looks like what they are trying to do is intimidate and use fear to shut down the collectives," said Don Duncan, the Southern California coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, a cannabis advocacy group.

The DEA says anyone who owns a dispensary should be worried.

"Anyone in violation of the federal drug law should be concerned, but to say that next week we are going to do raids, ... this is an ongoing investigation, and we can not say where the next phase will come from," DEA agent Sarah Pullen said.

Under a 1996 state ballot measure, the clinics can distribute doctor-prescribed marijuana. But federal officials consider all marijuana use illegal.

Though the clinic where Ceballos buys his pot remained open Thursday, Calvin Frye, the collective's owner, fielded dozens of calls from patients afraid his shop on Ventura Boulevard had been shut down.

Standing in front of a dry-erase board that listed various types of marijuana - Indica, Sativa, Hindu Kush - Frye defended his business.

"You just don't walk out of here with weed. You walk out of here with the knowledge of what you're using this for," he said, noting some strains of the plant target depression, chronic pain and other ailments.

But police say the clinics have become crime magnets, and as they proliferate - 138 opened last year alone in L.A. - they attract unscrupulous owners hungry to make a buck. Worse still, they said, the clinics are targeting teenagers, with one clinic distributing fliers at Grant High School last summer.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton called for a moratorium on the clinics. And he is backing a proposal by City Councilman Dennis Zine banning storefronts 1,000 feet from day care centers, schools and places of worship.

"We are not going to allow them to bring crime in the area and introduce the biggest gateway drug to young people under the guise of this dispensary," LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said.

But unlike the DEA, local police will not target the clinics unless they create other crime problems.

Source: Los Angeles Daily News (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Contact: http://www.dailynews.com/writealetter
Website: Los Angeles Daily News
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