DEA busts pot club operation; four arrested
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal agents raided a medical marijuana club and arrested four people Tuesday amid an ongoing tug-of-war between local and federal officials over the sale of pot for medicinal purposes.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized 630 pot plants from the Harm Reduction Center and arrested the group’s executive director, Richard Watts, said David Witty, the marijuana club’s chief of security.
Kenneth Hayes of Petaluma was arrested in Canada and Edward Rosenthal of Oakland was also arrested on charges of cultivating more than 100 pot plants and maintaining a place to grow them, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Each face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
A fourth man, James Halloran, of Oakland, was arrested in a separate case, and charged with growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants and keeping a place to grow them. He faces life in prison if convicted.
DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said the arrests were part of an investigation by the DEA, Customs Service and Internal Revenue Service targeting marijuana trafficking and smuggling.
“They all are connected with marijuana smuggling,” Meyer said. “We’ve said all along the cultivation and distribution of marijuana is illegal regardless of state or local law. Our job is to enforce federal law.”
The U.S. Supreme Court said last year that it is illegal to distribute marijuana for medical purposes.
San Francisco law enforcement officials have said their job is to enforce the laws of California, where voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana use.
Voters in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In Hawaii, the Legislature passed a similar law and the governor signed it in 2000.
District Attorney Terence Hallinan has been outspoken in his support of the clubs, and Police Chief Fred Lau has said his officers wouldn’t take part in any raids.
Hallinan spoke out again Tuesday evening during a protest outside the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson was to speak.
“This is a decision to be made by the voters of California and the people of the city and county of San Francisco,” Hallinan said through a bullhorn.
Four members of the city’s board of supervisors also attended the rally, where dozens demonstrators blew kazoos and chanted “Go away D-E-A.” The smell of burning marijuana occasionally drifted over the crowd.
“We will protest until this kind of nonsense from Washington, D.C. stops,” promised supervisor Chris Daly.
Workers at the pot club raided Tuesday said they were questioned by DEA agents about their relationship with Hallinan.
“They asked us if he was receiving monies from us or drugs,” Witty said. “This is insane. What kind of city do you think we’re operating here, to think that we’re smugglers or involved in some other criminal activity?”
The center serves about 200 patients a day, all with doctors’ recommendations to get the drug. Many suffer chronic pain from AIDS and cancer, Witty said.
Tuesday’s raid is just one in a series of recent federal crackdowns in California. Agents shut down a West Hollywood cannabis club in October. Other federal actions include raiding a Ventura County garden operated by patients, and seizure of medical records from a Northern California doctor who is a prominent medical marijuana proponent.
Tuesday’s raid coincided with President Bush’s announcement of a stepped-up war on drugs, with a goal of cutting drug abuse by 25 percent in five years, in part through improved law enforcement.
The White House also launched an anti-drug advertising campaign, broadcast first during the Super Bowl, with the message that money used to buy drugs may benefit terrorists.