It is something of a mystery why federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided HopeNet, a medical cannabis dispensary said to serve about 30 patients a day in San Francisco, on Dec. 20. It followed a series of raids in San Diego on Dec. 12 that closed 13 cannabis dispensaries.
No arrests were made in any of the raids, but some patients are concerned that these raids are a prelude to a major effort to close down cannabis clubs statewide.
But we could wait quite a while for another shoe to drop.
The backdrop to all this is the fact that California law and federal law are different regarding the medical use of cannabis, or marijuana.
Federal law prohibits growing, possessing or using marijuana completely, even for medical purposes, and even if such activities occur entirely within the borders of a state that authorizes the use of marijuana through the recommendation of a licensed physician, as California has since voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.
After last summer’s Raich vs. Ashcroft Supreme Court decision, DEA officials said it was unlikely they would pursue patients using marijuana in accordance with state law. “The reality is, we don’t have the time or resources to do anything other than going after large-scale traffickers and large-scale growers,” McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney in Sacramento, told reporters in June. The rule-of-thumb guideline has traditionally been that the feds are interested almost exclusively in sites with 1,000 or more plants.
In Northern California, the DEA began with a raid in the Sonoma County town of Penngrove that turned up 217 plants, which led to a raid on the San Francisco home of Steve Smith and his wife, Catherine, proprietors of HopeNet, at which 122 small plants were confiscated. When DEA agents then went to HopeNet in San Francisco, the manager asked to see a warrant, which the agents didn’t have. The DEA, presumably having secured a warrant, returned at night, kicked in the doors and seized what they claim were 500 plants and club records.
As we noted, nobody has been arrested in either the San Diego (which was a joint state-federal operation) or San Francisco raids.
We hope this is the end of the story rather than the beginning of a concerted effort to disrupt California’s medical marijuana laws. As Dale Giereinger, head of the California branch of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, there are now probably too many small-time medical growers and dispensaries in California for the feds to have a serious impact on the implementation of California’s law.
To be sure, the feds have the legal authority to arrest casual users and patients with a single joint. But it would be an enormous and unpopular waste of taxpayers’ money.