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DEA Raids Medical Marijuana Supplier in San Francisco


May-June 1997

Federal narcotics agents raided Flower Therapy, a San Francisco medical marijuana outlet, on April 21, seizing 331 marijuana plants and growing equipment (Bill Wallace, "Federal Raid On S.F. Grower Of Medical Pot," San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 1997, p. A1; Maria L. La Ganga, "DEA Agents Raid Marijuana Club," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), April 22, 1997, p. B3).

Stan Vegar, a spokesman for the DEA, said the DEA had received information that Flower Therapy was involved in a "large-scale sophisticated indoor growing operation." A videotape, which was broadcast on a local television news show a few weeks before the raid, showing the hydroponic cultivation of marijuana at Flower Therapy, was one piece of evidence that led to the raid, Vegar said. Although no one was arrested during the raid, the DEA is continuing to investigate while the U.S. Attorney's office reviews material seized in the raid.

The Flower Therapy raid was the first raid of a medical marijuana "club" since August 4, 1996 when state drug agents raided the Cannabis Buyers' Club (CBC), San Francisco's first and largest medical marijuana outlet (see "State Agents Raid Cannabis Buyers' Club in San Francisco," NewsBriefs, September 1996). The raid was also the first since California's new medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, was approved by voters on November 5, 1996 (see Medical Marijuana Measures Pass November 5th Ballots in California and Arizona ..." NewsBriefs, December 1996).

At a press conference on April 22, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan responded to the DEA's unannounced, predawn raid. "Before Proposition 215, this would not have happened," he said. "It seems to me they should let the dust settle down and let the courts and the Legislature give us some guidance on this issue. ... This does not qualify under the federal government's own written guidelines," said Hallinan. DEA officials confiscated about 2.25 pounds of marijuana, well below the typical two-ton threshold for federal law enforcement involvement, said Hallinan (Ken Hoover, "Hallinan Criticizes DEA Pot Raid," San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 1997, p. A20; Jim Herron Zamora, "DA asks feds to drop medical pot club case," San Francisco Examiner, April 23, 1997, p. A4).

Hallinan also expressed concern that he and Police Chief Fred Lau were not informed in advance of the raid, which federal agents usually do before serving search warrants. Mayor Willie Brown called the raid "an insult" to Hallinan's office and the Police Department.

"I am asking United States Attorney [Michael] Yamaguchi to reject this case," Hallinan said. "He and I have a good relationship and I think we can work this out." Yamaguchi's office had earlier declined to prosecute CBC members after the August 4 raid. Hallinan said the federal government is "wading into a murky legal issue. ... This could be a real headache for them." He said he "would testify to the fact that this group was trying to comply with the law in the state of California." Hallinan added that Flower Therapy "made an effort to demonstrate to us that this marijuana was only being grown for sick people," and appeared to be following Proposition 215 guidelines drafted by California Attorney General Dan Lungren (see "California Attorney General Releases Proposition 215 Guidelines," NewsBriefs, March-April 1997).

Flower Therapy, one of three medical marijuana outlets in San Francisco, only serves patients who can prove they have a doctor's recommendation for the plant, store officials say. The store provides marijuana to about 1,200 patients. John Hudson, co-directorof Flower Therapy said the store had been growing plants in order to help bring down the price of marijuana from $60 to $30 for an eighth of an ounce. The raid "really tore up my plan to bring down the price to the sick,'' he said. The organization was back in operation the day after the raid, said Hudson, partly because DEA agents did not seize the supplier's dried medical marijuana.