By Pat Hegarty
The medical cannabis raids, which have occurred repeatedly over the years in San Diego, began happening again on Feb 2, 2009, Ground Hogs Day. In the days that followed, the raids continued with more and more people from the cannabis community being arrested.Â A multi agency task force executed the raids on peopleâ€™s homes throughout San Diego County which led to the arrests of over 30 people, many of whom were mobile cannabis dispensing collectives; but not every publicly known medical source was raided.
Quickly, the medical cannabis community reacted to the chaos and confusion caused by these raids by alerting one another to minimize the damage that was being created.
On February 10th, at a typical looking press conference at the Hall of Justice, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis never mentioned medical cannabis; though the heart of the operation was a well coordinated campaign originally called â€œOperation Green RXâ€. Rather, most of San Diego was led to believe by DA Dumanis and her office that they were protecting the military while the troops are away. This is the official explanation on her web-site from the press conference: http://www.sdcda.org/files/operation_endless_summer.pdf
â€œThis operation has rounded up drug dealers who were jeopardizing public safety in military housing,â€ said DA Dumanis. â€œThe dedicated men and women serving in the military, along with their families, deserve a drug-free environment where they live.â€
â€œOperation Endless Summerâ€ was launched in the fall of last year as a response to concern over increased drug trafficking in military housing. The operation focused on drug dealers and violent criminals operating in a Fleet Concentration Area and negatively affecting the quality of life of families living in military housing.
â€œThe drug-fighting initiative â€˜Operation Endless Summerâ€™ is an excellent example of NCIS, ATF, the District Attorneyâ€™s Office and the San Diego Police Department pulling our resources together to eliminate a specific problem and make this community a safer place to work and live,” said Pete Hughes, Special Agent in Charge of the NCIS Southwest Field Office.
â€œWe are very pleased with the results of this operation,â€ said ATF Special Agent in Charge, John A. Torres. â€œWe want our men and women in uniform to know that ATF and our partners will do all we can to protect their neighborhoods, just as they do all they can to protect our country.â€
The combination of the DAâ€™s press conference and information received from the medical cannabis patients, who were still bailing out of jail days later, exposed a pattern of persecuting patient dispensing collective. San Diego Americans for Safe Access (ASA) coordinator http://www.safeaccesssd.org/, and Nug Magazine editor Dion Markgraaff said, â€œIt seems the Government had the San Diego Police Department cops get a fake California license, get a valid recommendation from a doctor, and go around and bust almost every known source in San Diego County. They just went down the CANORML patient dispensing collective list and got providers to come down to a street in Pacific Beach that has military housing.â€
Even the first story the San Diego Union-Tribune reported showed a crack in the Governmentâ€™s story, â€œI know there are people out there that can legitimately benefit from marijuana,â€ said Steven Walter, chief of the narcotics division of the District Attorney’s Office. â€œIt’s our policy that people that fit that category; we let them do their thing. But these people crossed the line.â€
When the San Diego medical cannabis community began to realize the scope of the Governmentâ€™s actions, they started to respond. The local chapter for ASA and many other groups came together for a day of rallying the public and to tell the Government that the citizens want to be â€œFree from fear of our Government not following the law.â€
The medical cannabis community marches in protest
The February 17th rally and march was called â€œA Walk Towards Freedomâ€, the theme taken from Nelson Mandelaâ€™s autobiography â€œA Long Walk to freedomâ€, and started at 8:30 am at the County Board of Supervisor Building, where over 25 people gathered. Among them were Don Duncan – the California Director of ASA and victims of the District Attorneyâ€™s â€œOperation Endless Summerâ€ Donna Lambert and Richard Hertz.
The demonstrators demanded â€œan end to the Governmentâ€™s irrational lack of lawful policies which leads to an enormous waste of money, time, and energy, and the needless suffering of many. Our society cannot afford the status quo. We want to end the fear of our Government not following the law.â€
Their message called for civil rights for medical cannabis patients and regulations. The crowd chanted, â€œWhat do we want?â€ answering â€œSAFE ACCESS NOWâ€ while walking to city hall.
On the march they carried a giant 6-foot check â€œto symbolize the money saved and the money earned when the Government follows the law and sets clear and proper policiesâ€¦. brought together in the light of day through; the health community, government institutions, law enforcement agencies, and patients concerns.â€
The rally continued at the San Diego City Council Chambers, where the cannabis community once again pleaded with their local leaders to help them with the ongoing chaos and continual cycle of crisis. As Markgraaff told them â€œthere is not an easier, more moral action you can take than helping those who are sick.â€Â http://vimeo.com/3274143
After getting no response from the Council, they marched to DA Dumanisâ€™ office at the Hall of Justice again chanting, â€œWhat do we want?â€ and answering â€œSAFE ACCESS NOWâ€ along the way to all who could hear their cries.
Once there, they presented a letter which included a general list of complaints about her office and a request that she look closely into the latest round of raids on the cannabis community.
We want to live free from the fear of our Government not following the law.
From our perspective, your San Diego Countyâ€™s District Attorneyâ€™s office maintains costly and cruel policies. Some examples:
Some patients live in fear of having â€œtoo muchâ€ medicine. Remember the state law of 8oz per person is the floor, not the ceiling amount that is permissible.Â People v. Phomphakdy
Your office has stated during previous raids that patients can get cannabis from other people who grow it. How is that chain of events legal and/or different from what happened in your latest sting, operation â€œEndless Summerâ€?
Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler 07/27/06 – Medical Marijuana from your first pod cast. â€œThere are licensed clinics that dispense marijuana, there are hospices. There is a mechanism for people to get it other than having to grow their own.â€ Is this true?
Your office cannot be an ignorant participant in court, meaning prosecutors often act like the law never passed over a decade ago. At every stage of cases, from arraignment to probation, the full weight of your legal authority is brought down on most patients. From high bail amounts with restrictions, to probation that often leads to more trouble and no access to their medicine.
Going forward â€“ Changes we want to see from your San Diego Countyâ€™s District Attorney office.
Participate in the dialog of finding community based solutions. Change is coming, from the US Federal Government to our soon to be implemented ID card system, and we should work together.
Respect these changes (ie. SB 420) â€“ esp. consideration of the fact SALES of medical cannabis are LEGAL, 11362.765. (a) Subject to the requirements of this article, the individuals specified in subdivision (b) shall not be subject, on that sole basis, to criminal liability under Section 11357, 11358, 11359, 11360, 11366, 11366.5, or 11570.
Act in accordance with the Stateâ€™s Attorneys General guidelines. We can exercise our rights anywhere, meaning â€œstore frontsâ€ are LEGAL.
The letter was signed â€œSincerely, Common Sense and Compassion Coalitionâ€.
The impact from the cannabis communityâ€™s response and the march is hard to measure, but by February 23rd the SD Union-Tribune article “Many in drug sting lack military tiesâ€ reported:
Court declarations signed by Operation Endless Summer investigators make no mention of complaints about drug dealing from residents in military neighborhoods.
Instead, they spell out how agents used confidential informants to arrange drug buys at the Pico Street house, and how San Diego detectives posed an undercover officer as a patient after learning medical marijuana was available on various Web sites.
It goes on to quote DA Dumanis,
â€œWe didn’t just trump up this idea,â€ said Dumanis, who faces re-election next year. â€œThese were people who were preying on military housing, and the operation was designed to catch those people.â€
NCIS Special Agent in Charge Pete Hughes was more nuanced during an interview last week. â€œIllegal drugs are often sold in military communities and the Navy must discourage such activity. This wasn’t us targeting people who were targeting military families,â€ Hughes said. â€œThe Navy community is in and about San Diego, so San Diego’s problems are our problems, as well.â€
The court battle -Â Dumanis vs. the patients
Since the raids, and the rallies against them, the dispute between the two sides has moved into the court room. Most of the accused medical cannabis patients quickly pled guilty to felonies and were sentenced to probation. This helped them to avoid our justice system in which their rights are not guaranteed.
Many of the victims of the raids lost their jobs as well as their residences from their landlords. In addition, at least one couple had their children taken way by Child Protective Service (CPS).Â While in CPS custody, a CPS agent reportedly stuck a q-tip up their 6 year old childâ€™s penis.
The whole picture of the non-medical cannabis people caught in â€œOperation Endless Summerâ€ is not yet clear. However, one defendant who was a clerk in a smoke shop sold non-medical cannabis to an undercover cop and received two misdemeanors for his actions.
In the few cases that are making their way through the court system, the Governmentâ€™s tactic has been to threaten the defendants into not seeking justice, by offering increasingly bad plea bargains. One person being represented by the public defenderâ€™s office was offered six months in jail to plead guilty which he declined so he could seek private council. After hiring an attorney for $7,500 – the offer turned into one year in jail the next time he appeared in court.
When those few do take the gamble to proceed to trial they are being met by a Kafkaesque Orwellian world, one where a judge ruled against a motion to dismiss a case based upon the vagueness of the law (i.e. no guidelines) ruling the law was a â€œserpentine roadmapâ€.
In another example, the key undercover cop Detective Scott Henderson revealed in court that he had never had any medical cannabis training and had never read the medical cannabis law, Health & Safety Code 11362.5.
Yet another major example occurred on April 23, 2009 when the DAâ€™s office, represented by Chris Linberg, stated in the case of defendant, Donna Jean Lambert, that the controlling San Diego Ordinances dealing with medical marijuana are not legal. To which an audience member in court correctly said â€œMORE LIESâ€.
According to Markgraaff, Linbergâ€™s statement was news to his boss, Assistant DA Walter who is in charge of Dumanisâ€™ narcotics unit.Â Because Walter was initially skeptical that Linberg would make the radical claim that laws passed by the San Diego Council were not legal, Markgraaff sent him a letter on May 13 titled â€œProof that San Diego DA Dumanisâ€™ office is not following the lawâ€ with a copy of the Courtâ€™s transcript.
The letter read in part, â€œThere are many examples [that San Diego DA Dumanisâ€™ office is not following the medical marijuana laws] that we will continue to document and forward to the public and your officeâ€¦..Â We want to find solutions to the ongoing problems. Scheduling a meeting to present these problems and answers to all the questions of the law and enforcement policies, should be the next step on this path.â€
So far no word back from Dumanisâ€™ office.
The few court cases which are ongoing from the â€œOperation Endless Summerâ€ raids need the publicâ€™s support.Â Discovery from these cases has proven this whole scheme was originally called â€œOperation Green Rxâ€. The undercover cop Henderson got his California physicianâ€™s recommendation on June of 6, 2008, and stated in his affidavit, â€œThe goal was to purchase marijuana from vendors â€¦.. I conducted a computer check of several Internet websites under the heading, â€˜Marijuana Deliveryâ€™.â€
The evidence appears to be stacked against San Diegoâ€™s DA Dumanis, who is up for re-election in 2010. Public support for medical cannabis is at the highest levels ever. There is more scientific proof of cannabisâ€™ medical properties than ever. The US Federal Supreme Court has ruled twice this year for Californiaâ€™s medical cannabis laws and President Barack Obama supports our stateâ€™s rights.
The jury of the publicâ€™s opinion will be noted. Will her office follow the same laws the medical cannabis community tries to follow?Â Can she change with the times? The verdict will soon be known.
DA Dumanis claimed she was protecting the military with â€œOperation Endless Summerâ€ but the evidence shows she was actually targeting medical marijuana with â€œOperation Green Rx.â€Â If Dumanis continues to follow a path of deception, her sentence will be to report to the unemployment line.