SAN FRANCISCO -- The medical marijuana debate erupted in the streets
Tuesday as protesters greeted Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa
Hutchinson hours after his agents raided cannabis activists on both sides
of the Bay.

Hutchinson addressed the Commonwealth Club at its Market Street office
Tuesday evening, protected by tight security and speaking over the drumming
and chanting of more than 200 protestors outside, including several San
Francisco elected officials.

"It is good to be in San Francisco," Hutchinson began, but his speech about
America's war on drugs was often interrupted by catcalls, hisses and boos
from the audience.

Earlier Tuesday, four men -- including Oakland marijuana activist Edward
Rosenthal, 58 -- were arrested on suspicion of marijuana cultivation.

Rosenthal is among the state's most prolific writers on marijuana. For
about 20 years he has written the "Ask Ed" advice column for High Times and
Cannabis Culture magazines. He also has edited, authored or co-authored
many books on marijuana cultivation and law; operates a marijuana-oriented
Web site; has worked as a consultant to hemp and marijuana growers around
the world; and has served as an expert defense witness in many marijuana

Agents staging Tuesday's raids seized hundreds of plants and other evidence
from several locations, including four Oakland addresses and the HARM
cannabis cooperative on Sixth Street in downtown San Francisco.

Court documents show federal agents believe the raids disrupted a marijuana
pipeline running from Canada to California. The papers describe a smuggling
network with links to pot clubs in Oakland, Marin County and Los Angeles.

DEA spokesman Special Agent Richard Meyer said the raids were "not at all"
timed to Hutchinson's visit. "We wouldn't put the safety of our agents at
risk just to impress the administrator."

But few others believed that was true Tuesday.

"The timing with Hutchinson being here certainly looks provocative," said
San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who attended the protest
and said the raids made him "furious."

The cannabis cooperative raided Tuesday has been "a valuable ally to us in
efforts to revitalize Sixth Street," Hallinan said, and federal agents have
no business meddling in a state matter of public health. When it comes time
to find a Northern California jury willing to convict these defendants, he
said, "he (Hutchinson) is going to have a fight on his hands."

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano took up a bullhorn
before the angry crowd and called the DEA "an obnoxious, grandstanding,
macho agency" unwelcome in San Francisco. Supervisors Chris Daly and Matt
Gonzalez expressed rage at the raids, too.

Inside, Hutchinson took angry questions about the raids. "The DEA is simply
following the law," he said, adding action against medical marijuana "is
not a priority but rather a responsibility we have."

Congress believes marijuana has no valid medicinal use, he said. He has
authorized scientists at the University of California, San Diego to do more
research on possible medical benefits, but until there's scientific proof
of benefits that outweigh the drug's risks, this is the way it has to be,
he said.

"The federal government is not prosecuting marijuana users," he insisted,
only those who traffic in large amounts of the drug.

Glenn Backes, health and harm reduction director for the Drug Policy
Alliance in Sacramento, said the DEA's actions embody a "screw-you"
attitude toward states' rights and a warning to other medical marijuana
users nationwide.

"We're spending millions of dollars on attacking sick people," he said.
"It's disgusting."

The medical marijuana debate has raged in California since 1996, when state
voters passed a law permitting medical use of marijuana. Federal
authorities insist federal law still bans any and all use of marijuana,
regardless of state law.

Cannabis Buyers Cooperative

Officials in Oakland, San Francisco and some other cities have worked to
shelter medical marijuana cooperatives from prosecution; Oakland even
established growing and possession guidelines, and declared the Oakland
Cannabis Buyers Cooperative an agent of the city. Even that didn't protect
the OCBC from being shut down by federal authorities; the U.S. Supreme
Court last year rejected the OCBC's request to cite medical necessity as an
exception to the federal marijuana ban.

Besides Rosenthal, Richard Watts, 47, of San Francisco, James Halloran, 61,
of Oakland and Kenneth Hayes, who is 34 or 35, of Petaluma were arrested
Tuesday. All are charged with cultivation of marijuana. Rosenthal, Watts
and Hayes face a minimum of five years in prison if convicted. Halloran
faces a 10-year minimum and could get life in prison.

Court documents accuse Rosenthal and Watts of providing marijuana to Hayes.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and the DEA refused to comment about Halloran's
connection to the others.

All but Hayes were arraigned in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday.
None entered pleas or were granted bail; they are scheduled to appear in
court again today, and Rosenthal's attorney, William Panzer of Oakland,
said he expects bail will be granted.

Hayes, the alleged ringleader, was arrested by police in Vancouver, British
Columbia, said his attorney John Conroy. Although Conroy didn't know enough
about the case to comment, he said Hayes already planned to claim he was a
refugee to avoid extradition to the United States.

"(That's) based on his fear of what the government will do to him. They
don't treat prisoners very well down there," Conroy said.

In Oakland, DEA agents raided 1419 Mandela Parkway, where they believe
Rosenthal grew pot. And they hit his residence and publishing headquarters
at 1635 East 22nd St., according to documents.

Answered Door Naked

"(Rosenthal) was naked when he answered the door (at 6 a.m.)," said a
publishing company employee identified only as Julia. "They just said, 'We
have a search warrant, open the door,' so he did. He did not get into an
argument with them."

Agents also raided two locations associated with Halloran; an old theater
at 647 East 12th St. and a residence, 5235 Boyd Ave.

The DEA did not say exactly what was seized Tuesday. Jane Klein, who said
she publishes Rosenthal's books, said about a dozen agents spent about six
hours removing books, magazines and other material from Rosenthal's home
and office. Also taken was a small amount of marijuana, which is for
Rosenthal's own medical use, she said, as well as a 50-pound bag of sterile
hemp seeds.

Along with the drug operation, Internal Revenue Service agents are looking
into allegations of money laundering.

Newshawk: Doug McVay
Pubdate: Wed, 13 Feb 2002
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2002 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Authors: Jeff Chorney, Josh Richman, Staff Writers