map of Mexico, before first invasion of California
Narco News '02
Publisher's Comment: In 1996, voters of the most populous
of the United States, California, approved a law allowing access
to marijuana as a medicine by patients who need it. After a highly
charged campaign, 55.7 percent of the state's voters cast 4 million
plus 869,420 ballots in favor of the medical marijuana law, with
44.3 percent opposed.
Last year, the democratically
elected government of the City of San Francisco declared the
city to be a legal sanctuary for medical marijuana patients.
But last week, federal
officials from a presidential administration that received a
minority of votes and was installed in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme
Court against the results of the popular vote, using force, espionage
and violence against U.S. citizens, raided an important medical
marijuana health clinic in San Francisco, California, seized
its computers and equipment, and has begun criminal prosecution
against important providers of this health service.
Authentic Journalist Ann
Harrison, longtime colleague and collaborator of Narco News
and related projects, reports from the front.
By Ann Harrison
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
touched off a firestorm of protest in San Francisco this week
when DEA agents raided a medical marijuana club and arrested
three medical marijuana activists. An arrest warrant has been
issued for a fourth activist who is currently in Canada and may
seek political asylum there if the U.S. attempts to extradite
The arrests underscore the ongoing conflict
between federal and state laws which regulate medical marijuana
in the U.S. The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the
growing and consumption of marijuana. But California's Compassionate
Use Act (Proposition 215) permits seriously ill patients to consume
marijuana for medical purposes and allows marijuana plants to
be grown for medicinal use. Eight U.S. states have passed medical
The San Francisco DEA operation took place
on Feb. 12, the same day as President George W. Bush unveiled
his administration's new anti-drug strategy aimed at cutting
use of illegal drugs by 10 percent over two years and 25 percent
over five years. Top DEA official Asa Hutchinson was heckled
by audience members when he outlined the government's anti-drug
agenda during a speech in San Francisco later that evening.
Francisco has declared itself a sanctuary
for patients who use marijuana to treat the symptoms of serious
ailments such as glaucoma, AIDS and cancer. Hutchinson was condemned
by city officials and San Francisco District Attorney Terence
Hallinan, who supports medical cannabis. "The voters should
be outraged," Hallinan told a crowd of chanting protesters
gathered outside the hall where Hutchinson spoke. "This
is the federal government trying to make a point in opposition
to the voters of California."
The raided medical marijuana club, known
as the "Harm Reduction Center," is one of approximately
30 such clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is the center
of the medical marijuana movement in the U.S. A temporary injunction
against another Bay Area club, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative
(OCBC), was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The
court determined that the club could not use a "medical
necessity defense," but it chose not to address constitutional
issues. Robert Raich, an attorney for the OCBC, has filed a motion
in U.S. District Court to dissolve or modify the preliminary
injunction against the club based partly on a federalist interpretation
of states rights.
San Francisco city supervisor Mark Leno
said he spoke with Hutchinson the day after the arrests and expressed
his concern about the DEA operation. Leno says he is authoring
a resolution to put before the board of supervisors on Feb. 18
urging the DEA to reconsider their action and "refamiliarize"
themselves with the city's medical cannabis identification card
program. He says the government should focus on the more serious
problems of heroin, cocaine and crack instead of targeting medical
"I believe this to be a direct assault
on the public health of San Francisco as well as a direct assault
on the voters of California, who by nearly 70 percent approved
Prop. 215 in 1996, allowing for the compassionate use of medical
cannabis," said Leno. "Our city, including the board
of supervisors, mayor, city attorney, district attorney and law
enforcement will continue to support the right of every patient
to safe and affordable medical cannabis."
Hutchinson told his San Francisco audience
that the DEA is compelled to follow federal drug laws which are
set by Congress. Richard Meyer, a spokesperson for the DEA San
Francisco Field Division, noted that under the Controlled Substances
Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule One substance with
no medicinal value and high potential for abuse. Meyer said the
investigation did not initially target the marijuana clubs, but
was focused on marijuana trafficking and smuggling.
The Harm Reduction Center, which has been
closed, was one of eight locations in the San Francisco Bay Area
that was searched on Feb. 12. Meyer said 8,135 marijuana plants
were seized from the sites. Computers were also taken from the
club, but Meyer said no patient records were removed.
The Rev. Lynnette Shaw, founder and owner
of a Bay Area medical marijuana club called the Marin Alliance
for Medical Marijuana, says she is concerned about her club being
raided by federal authorities. "This is an abhorrent violation
of our civil rights in America," said Shaw. "This is
not just about four people sitting in jail, this is about a thousand
patients today who have no medicine and they will just get sicker."
In affidavits in support of the search
warrants, DEA agents allege that Kenneth Hayes, who operates
the Harm Reduction Center, heads an organization that cultivates
and distributes large quantities of marijuana, imports and distributes
marijuana from Canada, and launders drug proceeds in the U.S.
and Canada. According to the affidavit, an informant claimed
to be selling marijuana from British Columbia to the club. A
second informer alleged that the club was selling to non-patients
and allegedly purchased marijuana from club employee Richard
Watts at Watts' home using DEA funds.
The same informer allegedly returned to
the club to buy more marijuana and 400 young plants from Hayes.
Hayes and Watts, the son of philosopher Alan Watts, were both
charged with two counts of cultivating more than 100 marijuana
plants after DEA agents found over 600 plants growing in the
club. The charges carry a maximum penalties of 40 years in jail
and $2 million in fines. They were also charged with a third
count of maintaining a place for the purpose of cultivating marijuana,
for which they could face 20 years in jail and a $500,000 fine.
Edward Rosenthal, author of the Marijuana
Growers Handbook, was also charged with cultivating more than
100 marijuana plants and maintaining a marijuana cultivation
site in Oakland, CA. He faces similar penalties. The DEA claims
that Rosenthal produces marijuana for Hayes and Watts. "The
Controlled Substances Act, which was passed in the 1970's, was
based on judgment and information ... that is thirty years old,"
said Rosenthal's wife, Jane Klein, at his bond hearing. "We
need laws that are based on current research."
In a separate complaint, James Halloran
of Oakland was charged with one count of cultivating more than
1,000 marijuana plants, which carries a maximum penalty of life
imprisonment and a $4 million dollar fine. He also faces another
count of maintaining a place to manufacture marijuana. According
to the affidavit, Halloran came to the attention of authorities
after a paid DEA source pointed agents to his cultivation site
It is unclear whether any of the defendants
are medical marijuana caregivers who are permitted to grow for
patients under California state law. The DEA alleges that it
received a complaint from a patient and a medical marijuana dispenser
named Father Nazarin that the Harm Reduction Center was selling
marijuana out the back door to non-patients. The DEA also alleged
that one of its agents was able to get a medical marijuana recommendation
from a San Francisco doctor without showing a prescription or
medication for his condition. OCBC attorney Robert Raich notes
that if clubs were found to be importing cannabis from Canada,
it would undermine a possible Commerce Clause argument which
asserts that Congress has no power to prohibit the production
and sale of medical marijuana inside California.
Watts is still in custody. Rosenthal and
Halloran both posted a $500,000 bond on Feb. 13 and have been
released. Hayes was arrested in Canada on Jan. 12, after he allegedly
chartered a small plane to land in a remote airfield south of
Vancouver with $13,000 in U.S. currency hidden in his clothes.
According to the DEA, he was held by the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police, which conducted thermal imaging of his Vancouver residence
to detect cannabis cultivation. The DEA says he was deported
by Canadian immigration to the U.S. Customs Service to face a
pending U.S. arrest warrant.
But his Canadian lawyer, John Conroy,
says Hayes was charged on Feb. 12 with one count of production
of marijuana under Canadian law. Conroy says Hayes, who uses
medical marijuana for a chronic pain condition, was interviewed
by Canadian immigration authorities and released without bail
for a six-month visitor's stay. The case may take up to a year
to settle during which time Conroy says Hayes can remain in Canada.
If Hayes is found to have been cultivating marijuana for his
own medical purposes or for a "compassion club," Conroy
said he would likely get an "absolute discharge," in
which his conviction would be overturned and purged from police
Conroy said Hayes initially intended to
apply for political asylum, but U.S. authorities have yet to
request his extradition. If an extradition warrant is served,
Conroy says his client will seek bail, await an extradition hearing,
and plead his case all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The San Francisco U.S. Attorney's Office, which has until March
5 to indict the defendants, would not comment on whether they
would seek to extradite Hayes.
"At any time in this process if there
is an attempt to take him to the border and deport him or if
the extradition is made, we will make a refugee claim based on
a well-founded fear that if he is returned to the U.S., he will
be persecuted," said Conroy. "He is from a well-defined
group that is being persecuted in the U.S., the medical marijuana
Ann Harrison covers
technology and politics from San Francisco. She can be reached
to more information:
DEA documents about the
Special reports from Media
Drug Reform Coordination
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