More MS news articles for Feb 2002

US Agents Raid Medical Marijuana Club

Feb 13, 2002

US agents raided a California medical marijuana club and arrested four people on Tuesday, provoking local protest as the Bush administration's top drug enforcement official arrived to defend his get-tough-on-drugs policy.

Demonstrating that federal officials are determined to push prosecution of marijuana cases despite California's 1996 law legalizing the drug for certain medical purposes, Drug Enforcement Administration officers searched clubs and homes in San Francisco and surrounding communities, ordered one cannabis club shut down, and made four arrests.

DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said the crackdown targeted a marijuana-smuggling operation involving San Francisco area activists. "It pertains to smuggling and trafficking of marijuana and also some possible money laundering," Meyer said, adding that the investigation had been aided by the Internal Revenue Service and the US Customs Service.

The raids were condemned by San Francisco officials, who have been outspoken in support of the right of Californians to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"This is the federal government trying to make a point in opposition to the voters of California," San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan told a crowd of several hundred chanting protesters outside a hall where DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson was delivering a speech. "The voters should be outraged."

Officials and club members said the raid on San Francisco's "Harm Reduction Center" cannabis club began early on Tuesday morning, and that agents ordered the building closed while removing hundreds of marijuana plants as well as computers and other equipment.

The club's director, Richard Watts, was charged along with two associates, one of whom was arrested in Canada. Another man, James Halloran of Oakland, was arrested in a separate case and charged with cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants.

Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman named to the DEA in August, said California should expect more federal sweeps against marijuana-distribution clubs.

Tuesday's crackdown marked the DEA's latest tough line in California, where voters in 1996 overwhelmingly approved Proposition 215 as the first law in the country legalizing medical marijuana use with a doctor's prescription.

That state law was challenged by federal officials. In May, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative that federal anti-drug laws do not permit legal distribution of marijuana as a "medical necessity" for seriously ill patients.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd