Pubdate: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
Source: ABC News (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 ABC News
Author: Garance Burke, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


Agents Say Marijuana Crackdown in San Francisco Could Lead to More Arrests

Authorities described this week's raids on San Francisco pot clubs as 
one of the largest drug crackdowns in the area in recent memory, and 
said the arrests were the first step in uncovering a major 
international drug operation.

U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan said agents raided three pot clubs that 
operated as fronts for marijuana and Ecstasy trafficking, and warned 
that federal drug laws would be strictly enforced even in cities 
tolerant of medical marijuana.

"We're empathetic to the ill and to the sick, however we cannot 
disregard federal law," said Drug Enforcement Administration Agent 
Javier Pena. "We have the power to enforce federal drug laws even in 
areas where it might not be popular."

Twenty people were indicted on federal drug charges in court 
documents unsealed Thursday, and an arrest warrant has been issued 
for another. Two others face state drug charges, and more arrests are 
pending, Ryan said.

Following a two-year investigation dubbed Operation Urban Harvest, 
officials searched a total of 25 homes and businesses throughout the 
Bay Area on Wednesday. They seized some 9,300 pot plants with a 
street value of more than $5 million, said Ryan. He said the pot 
clubs were a base of operation for a larger drug trafficking 
organization importing and selling large quantities of marijuana and 
Ecstasy, and engaging in money laundering and cash smuggling.

Despite the city's recognition of medical pot clubs as legal, San 
Francisco police officers participated in the investigation, but did 
not make arrests or enter the marijuana clubs.

While federal officials said at a news conference that the raids 
would not usher in a broader crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in 
the city, protesters outside said they sent a frightening message to patients.

"I'm scared," said Kathleen Prevost, who said she uses marijuana to 
control her post-traumatic stress disorder. "All I want to do is have 
access to my medicine."

Authorities said the Supreme Court decision two weeks ago that 
medical marijuana is illegal was not the impetus behind Wednesday's 
busts. But they warned federal laws will be strictly applied.

"There are some members of the public who think they can disregard 
the courts and Congress," said Pena. "The DEA will not be among them."

Authorities are now reaching out to international law enforcement 
organizations, Ryan said.

The alleged traffickers laundered millions of dollars using 12 
financial institutions and 40 bank accounts, said Kenneth Hines, an 
agent in charge of the IRS criminal investigation.
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