Industry Braces for More Raids
The medical marijuana world shivered as Federal agencies stepped up their enforcement of federal law which contravenes state law. Yesterday’s raid at the home of Matt Cohen, a pioneer advocate for the Mendocino 9.31 Compliance program (aka the zip-tie program), rattled already worried activists. The raid which had at least 6 DEA agents, as well as one state official (BNE) and one Mendocino sheriff’s deputy occurred early yesterday morning. The officers had a federal search warrant signed by a federal judge. KZYX out of Mendocino interviewed Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman who was instrumental in developing the 9.31 program. (Listen on KMUD archives of Thursday night news) Allman confirmed the raid saying he had spoken briefly to Cohen on the phone. He said that as far as he knew Cohen was following all state and local laws. He added that Cohen was not arrested though his plants were removed and he had several pieces of personal property confiscated.
Allman, who like many good people here in the Emerald Triangle finds themselves pinched between a rock and a hard place, pointed out that while cannabis is federally illegal, voters in California and in Mendocino have unequivocally affirmed their support for medical marijuana. Nonetheless, 9.31 only provides growers with protection from state and county enforcement. Federal law enforcement can choose to enforce federal law on even the most compliant and clean grower.
The fed push back against medical marijuana began with a tax case against Harborside dispensary in Oakland. They claim that the large nonprofit must not only pay taxes but cannot deduct business expenses like any other organization. Then the four US Attorneys in California held a conference stating their plan to go after dispensaries that were close to schools etc. One of the US Attorneys, Laura Duffy, announced that she planned to go after media outlets that were selling advertising to dispensaries.
Industry insiders who just last week comfortably gave their name and occupation are pulling back. A story that I was doing photography for had the driver, who was transporting California legal medical marijuana, normally very outspoken and willing to be interviewed, unexpectedly requesting anonymity because his wife was fearful of federal attention. When I contacted formerly public medical marijuana activists and growers for comment about the Cohen story, all declined to be quoted. However, one industry insider speculated that Cohen’s raid may be part of a plan by federal officials to mark their territory. If Cohen, who is known as an upstanding businessman and completely compliant with local laws can be taken down, then officials will have effectively terrorized everyone in the medical marijuana community–whereas raiding someone who was more relaxed about legality, could actually encourage folks to become more compliant with local and state law in an effort to avoid prosecution. Furthermore, one source said going after Cohen was “a direct assault on the Mendo program.” It is an assault on a program in which law enforcement is working with the will of the people to manage the harmful effect of crime and provide the best possible protection for the people in their jurisdiction.
Mendocino Co. Supervisor Dan Hamburg said on the Mendocino Discussion list,
One of my ongoing concerns about 9.31 (and while I opposed its passage in 2010 I voted in favor of some revisions to the ordinance in 2011) is that it paints a nice bright target on our collective backs here in Mendocino County. Some would argue that Measure G did the same (with its 25 plants/person language). One difference is that G was simply a “sense of the voters” measure whereas 9.31 is a county ordinance.
In light of the raid of Northstone Organics (our “poster child” for above board medmar operations) and the recent federal court decision that caused the city of Long Beach to rescind their medical marijuana ordinance, we may need to re-think our direction here. A complicating factor is that 9.31 has become something of a “cash cow” for the MCSO, bringing in around half a million dollars in the last fiscal year.
The Federal officials actions seem to be having the desired effect.