Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jul 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writer
Cited: Los Angeles City Council
Cited: Los Angeles Police Department
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Agents Hit the Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Shortly After the L.A. 
City Council Bars New Facilities for a Year to Write Better Regulations.

The gap between state and federal drug laws became apparent again 
Wednesday when federal agents raided 10 local medical marijuana 
facilities only minutes after the Los Angeles City Council placed a 
moratorium on new facilities so rules could be drafted to better regulate them.

The ban is for one year, but the council can extend it for another year.

The city move was widely applauded by medical marijuana activists who 
believe that having a solid set of rules will help prevent future 
city crackdowns and ensure that dispensaries remain open.

But state or local laws have no effect on federal activities.

Although voters in California approved the use of medical marijuana 
in 1996 and said users should not be subject to criminal prosecution, 
it remains illegal under federal law to possess, sell or cultivate 
marijuana and neither the federal nor state courts have resolved the matter.

Drug Enforcement Administration officers served a search warrant on 
facilities across Los Angeles County, including the California 
Patients Group in Hollywood, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. The 
timing of the raid was not intended to coincide with the council 
vote, she said.

"These are ongoing enforcement operations. As far as we know, we've 
been planning this for some time," Pullen said.

The Los Angeles Police Department was on hand to patrol the 
perimeter, as it often does as a courtesy to federal agencies.

LAPD officers arrested five people demonstrating outside the 
California Patients Group dispensary, Lt. Ruben De La Torre said. 
Four of the arrests were for blocking a DEA vehicle and failing to 
comply with orders from a police officer to move. The other arrest 
was for vandalizing a police car.

Don Duncan, operator of the Hollywood dispensary, was the first 
activist to testify at Wednesday's council meeting. He also is a 
board member of Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana group.

"It's disgusting that sick people would be subjected to this right 
here in Los Angeles," Duncan said.

Pullen said that although medical marijuana was legalized by state 
voters, the DEA has been enforcing federal laws. The agency has 
ramped up efforts recently because the number of dispensaries has 
grown to more than 400 in Los Angeles County and the surrounding 
area, she said.

The DEA and other agencies earlier this month issued indictments 
against six men, alleging that they participated in selling marijuana 
at dispensaries throughout the state, including two such stores in 
West Hollywood.

In response to a request from the council, the office of City Atty. 
Rocky Delgadillo reported earlier this year that at least 98 
dispensaries are in Los Angeles, although some activists believe 
there are more.

The report also found that 12 dispensaries were near schools or 
day-care centers.

City Councilman Dennis Zine said the temporary ban was designed to 
protect patients' rights while drawing up rules to protect 
communities where dispensaries are located.

Several dozen medical marijuana activists attended the council 
meeting to support the temporary ban. No one spoke against it.

Activist Sarah Armstrong said that she often has to travel from her 
home in Ventura County to Los Angeles to obtain medical marijuana to 
help relieve pain from arthritis she said was the result of a 1989 car crash.

Cities and police agencies in Ventura County and others in Southern 
California have been far less tolerant of the dispensaries, which is 
why most in the region are in L.A. County. 
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