Federal raids, plus a county crackdown and city standstill—will Sacramento’s medical-cannabis community go underground, à la Prohibition?
It took only 10 days for the federal government, after California’s four U.S. attorneys announced a ramped-up crackdown against the state’s medical-marijuana industry, to raid a local dispensary.
The operation went down a few minutes after 7 a.m. on Monday, October 17, when Drug Enforcement Agency officers showed up at north Sacramento’s Medizen. DEA spokesperson Casey McHenry couldn’t say what the feds seized—the court documents were already sealed, she told SN&R—but Americans for Safe Access’ Kris Hermes explained that when the feds typically raid a club, “they basically seize it all.”
This includes any record of a dispensary’s thousands of patients: driver’s license info, signed dispensary membership agreements and copies of physician referrals for medical pot.
California’s U.S. attorneys insist that they will not be targeting cannabis patients in this latest effort. But Hermes, whose ASA organization advocates on behalf of medical-cannabis use and research, said he’s “heard rumors” of connections between info seized in raids and federal action against patients.
Here in California, it’s just that: a rumor. But in Michigan, Hermes reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is being “especially proactive” by using information from the state’s medical-marijuana program to serve warrants and forfeiture notices on patients who possess firearms. He noted, too, that, in September, the ATF issued a warning to gun retailers that medical-marijuana patients were prohibited from possessing a firearms or even ammunition.
So, will the feds go after pot-smoking gun owners in California? Or, for that matter, will they target patients who drive buses, run day cares, work state jobs—or teach in public schools?
Activists argue that it’s unlikely Democrats Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris would allow this. But sometime down the road, who knows?
This has patients concerned. Much like medical-marijuana dispensary owners and cultivators, who’ve been frantic and—understandably—paranoid since the U.S. attorneys made known its new crackdown on October 7. Dozens of clubs shut down on their own accord upon hearing this announcement, and two so far (Medizen and The Green Temple) have been raided by the federal government.
Meanwhile, Sacramento County’s media director Chris Andis reports that a whopping 63 medical-pot dispensaries have shut down in the unincorporated county this year, some due to economic hardship but most due to the county’s new enforcement policy.
This past week, Sacramento County announced that it, instead of crafting a dispensary ordinance as had been discussed, would be banning all collectives. A new law inked by Gov. Brown this past month, Assembly Bill 1300, gives local governments the right to ban marijuana clubs and cultivation.
Obviously, the so-called medical-marijuana “green rush” since President Barack Obama’s 2008 election is done, over. Even the city of Sacramento has suspended its dispensary permitting process indefinitely, opting to wait out this storm of federal intervention before certifying its dozens of clubs with official business licenses.
Some say the cannabis community will prevail—“Talk is cheap, and it’s a lot of hot air,” ASA’s Hermes insists of this latest fed effort—but others argue that the entire industry will go back to the proverbial underground, à la “speak-easy” clubs during U.S. Prohibition of the 1920s.
Courtney Sheats, with the Sacramento branch of ASA, said that she’s already witnessed “a shift in the way our collectives are conducting themselves in the community,” which includes what she refers to as a moving “out of the limelight.”
“Are we going to go all the way back to pre-Obama?” she said. “I’m not sure. But we’ve reversed at least two years of the movement.”
Sheats also says that, during this time of uncertainty, collectives should be organized and prepared for raids. ASA recommends storing a backup copy of patient data off-site or with an attorney.
For the dispensaries who have not closed shop, almost all have stopped advertising on the websites WeedTracker, WeedMaps.com, and even in this publication, The 420. This is the old way of running a cannabis collective. In 2007, for instance, there were less than 10 medical-pot dispensaries in the city and, as one collective operator told SN&R on background, “you didn’t want to make the bear angry” by advertising or lobbying the city for an ordinance back then.
“You just served patients,” the club operator said.
The problem is, the industry has skyrocketed since Obama’s election, growing from a handful of clubs in the region to a statewide industry that pays hundreds of millions to the state Board of Equalization taxes and boasts an economic impact upward of $3 billion annually.
In the meantime, more and more clubs nervously await this federal attack to pass. An operator with The Green Temple, who was raided on Friday, October 21, said that during its raid, DEA officials politely told them, “It’s over” for marijuana in California. Many others hope, like ASA’s Hermes, that this is an empty threat.
But still, another dispensary owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they’ve been going to bed by 8 p.m. and showing up at their club at 5 a.m. every day, “just in case I get raided.”