Pubdate: Tue, 13 Nov 2001
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A17
Copyright: 2001 Hearst Communications Inc
Author: Mark Martin
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Operators Fear Members' Records Will Be Confiscated

Days after federal drug agents burst into a well-known Los Angeles cannabis 
club to snatch up the medical records of 960 people who bought marijuana 
there, Lynette Shaw made sure her clients' paperwork wouldn't be so easy to 

Shaw, founder of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, moved records 
from her Fairfax office to another site -- she is not telling where -- as 
she braced for a visit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Two recent raids by the DEA at California medical marijuana operations have 
intensified the 5-year-old conflict between the state's voter-approved 
legalization of the drug for medicinal purposes and federal prohibition. As 
U. S. attorneys threaten criminal prosecution, Bay Area clubs that 
distribute cannabis to the sick are worried they will be next.

Many California officials have blasted the DEA's crackdown, but it is 
little consolation to those in the middle of one of the drug war's most 
confusing fronts.

"Everyone is gravely concerned," Shaw said. "There are 1,000 people in Los 
Angeles who are getting sick and wasting away because of the DEA raid. We 
don't want that to happen here."

In the past two months, the DEA has shut down the Los Angeles Cannabis 
Resource Center in West Hollywood and confiscated thousands of records from 
a doctor in El Dorado County who gave medical marijuana referrals to 
patients. In addition, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan 
says several Bay Area clubs have been the targets of DEA surveillance.

Shaw and directors of other area cannabis clubs are moving to protect their 
clients' privacy and urging patients to grow marijuana at home or be 
prepared to find another source if they are busted.

At the Berkeley Patients Group, flyers alerting clients to the Los Angeles 
raid are being passed out to all clients, said Don Duncan, the group's founder.

"We're on a heightened state of alert," Duncan said. "We're in full 
compliance with California laws, but the federal government doesn't seem to 
care about that."

The recent federal action is in part a result of a unanimous Supreme Court 
decision in May. The high court ruled that federal drug laws make no 
exception for seriously ill patients who smoke marijuana for health 
reasons, essentially clearing the way for law enforcement officials to 
close organized co-ops that distribute marijuana.

The ruling stemmed from a civil lawsuit filed against the Oakland Cannabis 
Buyers' Cooperative and five other Northern California cannabis clubs. Now 
federal authorities say they have the right to break up the 50 or so clubs 
that have opened storefronts since California became the first state in the 
nation to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

"They know they're breaking the federal law," said Richard Meyer, spokesman 
for the DEA's San Francisco office. "Our job is to enforce the federal drug 
laws, and that's what we plan to do."

Meyer would not say whether agents planned to go after any Bay Area 

Two major medicinal marijuana operations have been targets so far.

In El Dorado County, the DEA took thousands of records from the California 
Medical Research Center, which provides doctors' referrals to people if 
they qualify to use medicinal marijuana. The U.S. attorney's office hasn't 
yet announced charges.

In West Hollywood, about 30 armed DEA agents entered the Los Angeles 
Cannabis Resource Center on Oct. 23 to uproot marijuana plants and seize 
computer records for clients, most of whom use marijuana to counter the 
effects of drugs they take to combat AIDS. The DEA and the U.S. attorney's 
office have threatened to criminally prosecute the club, although charges 
haven't been filed in that case either.

Cannabis activists say the Southern California raid is particularly 
troubling because the club has gone out of its way to conduct business in 
the open and has the backing of city officials and the Sheriff's Department.

"We applied for every business license, filled out every piece of paper we 
could," Imler said. "We've walked through all this bureaucracy for the last 
five years exactly to prevent this. Now I have to tell the people here I 
may not be able to help them because I'll be in federal prison."

The California Medical Association has denounced the seizures of patient 
records, saying the DEA is interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno announced legislation last week that 
would make the city a symbolic medical marijuana "sanctuary," and Hallinan 
held a press conference to deliver a blunt warning to the DEA: Stay out of 
San Francisco.

"All we can do is send a message to the federal government that they will 
not get any support from San Francisco officials," Hallinan said.

Activists are working on strategies to counter the new crackdown, and some 
have suggested that states should be involved in distributing the drug to 
further stymie federal attempts to stop medical marijuana. But that idea 
hasn't been seriously studied in California.

"This is now a matter to be decided in federal courts or Congress," said 
Gina Palencaer, a spokeswoman for Santa Monica-based Americans for Medical 
Rights, which wrote Proposition 215.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is sponsoring a bill that would allow 
physicians to prescribe marijuana in states that have legalized the drug as 
a medicine. And lawyers for the Oakland cannabis club have filed new briefs 
in their case, asking a federal appeals court to recognize a state's right 
to determine the issue.
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