Pubdate: Wed, 20 May 2015
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2015 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Author: Eric Hartley


Police, Federal Agents Disrupt Pot Education Convention

Las Vegas police and federal agents arrested 10 people and seized 
drugs over the weekend at Hempcon, a marijuana education convention 
at the Cashman Center.

People who were there described seeing police dogs around the event, 
as well as officers on the roof of the building, apparently looking 
for people smoking marijuana.

The arrests outraged event organizers, and some attendees said they 
left medical marijuana patients frightened as Nevada's first legal 
dispensaries prepare to open.

"It's disheartening for our whole community," said Jennifer Solis, of 
Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates of Nevada, or WECAN, and who 
was at the event.

 From Friday to Sunday, officers shut down five booths, arrested 10 
people and cited three others on charges including drug possession, 
possession with intent to sell and transporting a controlled 
substance, said officer Laura Meltzer, a Metro spokeswoman. She said 
officers seized marijuana, hashish, marijuana seeds, edible products 
containing THC and psilocybin mushrooms.

Meltzer said Metro narcotics detectives and Hempcon organizers had 
spoken before the event, and organizers told attendees they had to 
follow the law.

Nevada allows medical use of marijuana by patients with state-issued 
cards. But it's illegal to sell the drug without a state dispensary 
license, and it's illegal for anyone to use it in public.

Asked about the criticism of the arrests, Meltzer said, "It is 
incumbent upon the people who are attending this and who are 
conducting this to be aware of Nevada state law."

Mark Saint, an activist who was at the convention Friday, said the 
police stance was hypocritical since officers have looked the other 
way at similar events while people used marijuana.

The arrests were made by a task force called Southern Nevada Cannabis 
Operation and Regional Enforcement, which includes Metro, Henderson 
police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA spokeswoman 
Sarah Pullen said a federal agent is on the task force but that Las 
Vegas police led the operation.

Meltzer said the names of those arrested were not available Tuesday. 
Police made no public

Crackdown was backlash from other event, organizer says announcement 
about the operation and provided information only in response to 
questions from the Review-Journal.

Jason Sturtsman, a patient advocate and owner of a medical marijuana 
growing operation, wondered whether that's because police know how 
much public attitudes toward marijuana have shifted.

"It just seems like a waste of resources," said Sturtsman, who was 
not at the event but heard about the arrests.

People who were there said police seemed to become more aggressive as 
the weekend went on.

On Friday, officers arrested some people who were selling marijuana, 
said Kurt Duchac, a WECAN board member. Duchac said those arrests 
were understandable, since it's illegal to sell without a license.

But on Saturday, he said, officers started arresting patients who 
were peacefully using marijuana in their cars. And on Sunday, a SWAT 
vehicle showed up and officers were on the roof of the building.

"They were targeting patients, people for simply having it on them," 
Duchac said. "They were running dogs through there."

Inside, Duchac said, officers were "trashing" booths and ripping open 
boxes looking for drugs. People gathered around to watch, with some 
filming police and yelling at them. "It was ugly," Duchac said. 
Meltzer said she did not know details of how the operation was 
conducted and that the task force commander was not available for 
comment Tuesday.

Hempcon, which holds conventions around the country, is meant to be 
an educational event where vendors can meet customers and patients 
can find information. Its website says attendees are not allowed to 
bring drugs or drug paraphernalia.

Organizers didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. On their 
Facebook page, they wrote in a post Monday: "We deeply regret the 
unfortunate police activity during the Las Vegas Hempcon over the 
weekend of May 15-17. It was a blow to our Vendors, the attendees, 
the Community as a whole, and to us as well. It is sad that our 
industry is subject to such indiscriminate and prejudicial behavior 
by law enforcement, but we as a Community will PERSEVERE and not let 
our forward momentum be derailed by them."

Solis, who has organized another marijuana-themed event, said police 
told her such crackdowns are a backlash from an event last year 
called Hempfest. After that event, Solis said, police were 
embarrassed by photos that showed people smoking marijuana while 
officers simply watched.

"You can thank your buddies at Hempfest for all this backlash," she 
recalled one officer saying when she met with police after applying 
for her event permit.

Sturtsman said police crackdowns could pose challenges, since 
soon-to-open legal dispensaries are expecting many of their customers 
to be from out of state. And some of those patients might not realize 
using a legal drug is outlawed in public places.

"I think it's going to be a growing problem in Las Vegas when these 
dispensaries open up ... where can these individuals consume cannabis 
in a safe place?" he said.
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