Pubdate: Thu, 21 Jun 2012
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


As medical marijuana demonstrators waved signs  "Free my medicine!"
and "Troops out of Sacramento!"  a co-founder of a Sacramento
dispensary raided by U.S. authorities last week protested the action
Wednesday in a rally outside the federal courthouse.

"The raid, on a state and locally compliant, not-for-profit
collective, is not fair," said Suneet Agarwal, who operated the El
Camino Wellness Center along with Nicholas Street. "The federal
government's ... actions are not right and not fair, and all we want
is to be treated fairly."

On June 11, Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement
Administration agents raided the dispensary, one of the largest in the
Sacramento area and the first to be issued a permit under a city
regulatory program for medical marijuana establishments.

The IRS seized bank accounts for the dispensary and operators it
claimed had taken in more than $870,000 in cumulative deposits between
August 2011 and January 2012.

The raid underscored efforts by U.S. authorities to crack down on
California dispensaries by employing laws traditionally used to target
money transfers by narcotics traffickers.

Since last October, when U.S. prosecutors announced they would target
purportedly nonprofit California dispensaries that they charged were
"hijacked by profiteers," an estimated 400 dispensaries closed in the
state amid threats of prosecution.

The El Camino Wellness Center stayed open and fought an eviction
notice by its landlord after Sacramento U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner
sent a letter threatening seizure of the property.

As a few dozen protesters gathered at the U.S. courthouse, Sacramento
medical marijuana physician Dr. David Allen called on people serving
on juries to refuse to convict defendants in cases involving medical

No charges have been filed in the El Camino Wellness case. Still,
James Anthony, a land-use attorney who represented the dispensary in
its permit process with the city, urged Wagner to "reconsider how it
is fair and just to devote this level of law enforcement resources to
prosecute dispensaries that are compliant with state law."

Three days after the El Camino Wellness raid, authorities arrested
three operators of a chain of medical marijuana stores in Southern
California cities of Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley after the
operators were indicted on federal drug trafficking charges.

Dan Rush of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which
represented El Camino Wellness Center workers, said 45 employees lost
their jobs in the Sacramento raid. He said dispensary closures have
cost about 3,000 total jobs statewide.

At the rally, Rush urged passage of pending legislation, AB 2312, to
create statewide regulation for marijuana providers in hopes of
curtailing federal raids.

The El Camino raid was also decried by Steve DeAngelo, executive
director of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, billed as the
largest in the world. Harborside had been fighting a $2.4 million tax
bill sought by the IRS under a tax statute designed to deny business
deductions for narcotics traffickers.

"This campaign is being launched and directed by U.S. attorneys,"
DeAngelo said of the El Camino Wellness case. "Why are they still
hanging on to this war on cannabis, which everybody else in this
country has abandoned? The American people don't support it anymore."
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