HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html DEA Raids Santa Rosa Pot Club, Arrests 2
Pubdate: Thu, 30 May 2002
Source: Press Democrat, The (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Press Democrat
Author: Randi Rossmann and Lori A. Carter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Local Medical Marijuana Advocates Outraged; Suspects Face Hearing In SF

Federal drug agents raided a storefront medical marijuana club in Santa Rosa
on Wednesday and searched a second undisclosed location.

A Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman said two people were arrested
and marijuana, cash, a car and a weapon were seized.

Federal officials, saying court records in the case were sealed, refused to
provide any more details, including where the arrests were made.

The raid was the latest in a series of DEA raids on buyers clubs that popped
up around the state after voters approved a 1996 initiative allowing medical
use of marijuana.

Marijuana use is prohibited by federal law, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
against the clubs last summer, clearing the way for a federal crackdown.

DEA spokesmen say they aren't actively targeting the clubs but simply
following leads to marijuana trafficking groups.

The Santa Rosa club, the Aiko Compassion Center on West College Avenue, is
one of four marijuana buyers clubs in the county, medical marijuana
advocates said.

The raid upset advocates, who say they work with local law enforcement on
guidelines to help them stay within state law.

"I'm not surprised but I'm outraged," said Ernest "Doc" Knapp, a spokesman
for the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

Witnesses described DEA agents in dark-colored SUVs pulling up to the front
door of the club at about 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

"They made a big show of it," said Mark Nabavi, who runs the Printing
Express store next door. "They blocked the front entrance and wouldn't let
anyone in. They took down everyone's license plate number."

Club manager John Sugg was there at the time. He said officers handcuffed
him but later released him. He wasn't arrested but was given a notice to
appear before a federal grand jury in San Francisco, he said.

Santa Rosa attorney Rich Ingram said the men arrested were Edward Bierling
of Santa Rosa and Dan Nelson.

Bierling is a medical marijuana user, said Ingram, who is his lawyer. He
declined to say whether Bierling is a member of the Aiko club. Neither
Ingram nor Sugg would provide more information about Nelson.

Both men are scheduled to appear today in U.S. District Court in San
Francisco, Ingram said. Both were being held Wednesday night at the Sonoma
County Jail.

Because the records are sealed, Ingram said he doesn't know the charges or
the circumstances of the arrests. He said the records should be unsealed at
today's hearing.

Ingram did say that DEA agents searched Bierling's home March 8 and
confiscated some marijuana and lights. He said Bierling was in compliance
with Sonoma County's guidelines for medical marijuana use.

The Aiko club has operated on West College Avenue for less than a year. It
previously was on Fourth Street near downtown, according to local advocates.

Knapp said the club serves more than 100 people and takes steps to ensure
clients have legitimate approval from doctors to obtain marijuana.

Some cities and counties have issued ID cards to certified medical marijuana
users. In Sonoma County, certified users can obtain a letter from a panel of
doctors set up to review applicants and are allowed to possess up to three
pounds of pot.

The guidelines led to a truce between local drug officers and medical
marijuana users, which both sides say has worked.

But a local DEA task force operates in Sonoma County, and agency spokesmen
say in federal eyes there is no such thing as medical marijuana.

"We have not targeted marijuana clubs. We have investigated marijuana
trafficking groups," said San Francisco DEA spokesman Rich Meyer. "As we
develop leads, we follow those leads. If one takes us to a marijuana club,
then we continue that investigation."

Sugg said there have been recent arrests in Sonoma County, so "we had an
inkling it might happen in a few weeks from now, but we were surprised a
little bit."

At Aiko a few hours after the raid, a steady stream of customers approached
the front door only to find it locked tight with no indication why.

"What a shame," said one man who declined to give his name. "Your tax
dollars at work."

Another man who said he smokes marijuana on a doctor's recommendation to
alleviate glaucoma discomfort was disappointed to find the club closed.

"It's my first time here and I can't even score," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk