By: Esther Rubio-Sheffrey
James Stacey was driving away from his medicinal marijuana co-op, Movement in Action, on September 9, 2009 when a patrol car and two undercover officers in an unmarked car pulled him over. He complied with the officer, stepped out of his vehicle, and was immediately placed in handcuffs.
While Stacey sat in the patrol car, the officers searched his vehicle and armed DEA agents simultaneously raided his co-op and home. â€œI was scared,â€ Stacey recalled. â€œIt was devastating to my life.â€ Stacey accepted a plea bargain to avoid jail time. His probation ends in two years, but he will never be able to shake the â€œfelonâ€ label. He says had it not been for the support of the local Americans for Safe Access (ASA) chapter, which he is now an active member of, he would not have been able to tolerate the long legal battle.
Are you prepared to endure such a scenario?
As San Diego moves closer to enacting the city council approved ordinances on medicinal marijuana co-ops, many in the marijuana community are preparing for a legal battle while others are focused on the growing concern about raids.
What would you do if DEA agents burst through the doors with their weapons raised and you found yourself in the middle of a federal raid? What happens to you as an employee or a patient?Â What rights do you have?
At a special raid preparedness training on May 3rd, the California Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Don Duncan, gave local chapter members and concerned San Diegans an intense crash course on how to best protect yourself in such a case. As a raid survivor himself, Duncan shared valuable information that can keep you from spending time in jail.
The best thing you can do is remain calm. Place your arms out forward with open palms to express your compliance and obey all orders. When the initial shock and awe portion of the raid subsides, the interrogation, whether subtle or intimidating, will begin. At this point, Duncan could not stress enough the importance of 12 words that he repeatedly referred to as the magic words: I choose to remain silent. I wish to speak to an attorney.
â€œIf there is a hostile takeover, you have nothing to gain by talking. Itâ€™s happening; you are being raided,â€ Duncan said. â€œ85% of the information that police get on you comes from you, so about 90% of legal protection is silence.â€
As a patient, your time is likely to be the only thing inconvenienced. As an employee or co-op manager, however, the likelihood of arrest is high. How long you remain behind bars depends on your actions before and after the raid. According to Duncan, the key is being prepared.
â€œBeing prepared will help you remain calm, which is important, because aside from asserting your right to silence, you must also state that you do not consent to a search,â€ Duncan said. â€œEven if they have a warrant, you do not have to open any safes or unlock any doors. Let them do it. Any evidence obtained illegally may be dismissed later in court.â€
To ensure your co-op is ready for a raid, Duncan provided a number of tips: minimize exposure by keeping a limited supply of cannabis in the co-op, preferably no more than two days worth; have cameras that feature offsite video storage, so you can document the raid from inside and out; organize and protect the patient, doctor and financial data; and make sure you comply with all tax, zoning, and labor laws.
â€œThe best thing you can do is establish a community of support,â€ Duncan added. â€œGet together with likeminded people and develop a plan that includes everything from childcare to a media response, and make sure you have a criminal lawyer in advance.â€
Duncan emphasized the importance of compliance. Even after you have expressed your lack of consent to the raid, stand aside and remain silent. If you are 100% compliant with everything from the fire extinguisher on your wall to labeling all cannabis as medicine, your lawyer should be able to mount an undisputable defense.
â€œDo not have guns, do not have illegal drugs, do not allow for patients or friends to smoke inside the co-op, and do not keep a lot of cash on hand. Have your patients/cultivators make an appointment so that you will have the cash ready for them,â€ Duncan advised.
It is also advisable to keep any plants at a separate location. According to Duncan, the golden goose for DEA agents is arresting a grower and/or confiscating marijuana plants. â€œBe cautious about everything and make sure everyone on staff knows whether or not they will be bailed out, so appropriate plans can be made,â€ Duncan added. â€œAlso, have a plan for after the raid that includes a staff meeting, so everyone knows how to move forward legally.â€
Another key element that will keep you out of prison on federal charges is to have help spinning the community and media focus from â€œanother drug dealer bustâ€ to â€œFeds terrorizing patients.â€ To achieve that successfully, you need support.
ASA offers free raid preparedness training for co-op managers and employees. They are conducted onsite and feature a raid simulation. Additionally, ASA offers a wealth of legal resources and is prepared to help any co-op in the event of a raid.
By taking less than 20 minutes to fill out a one-page questionnaire, one phone call to ASA in the event of your arrest is all you will need. They will do everything from contacting your lawyer and family members to protesting at your co-op and drawing media attention to your plight. They can even send out an emergency text to your supporters as you are being raided and help get witnesses to the site.
â€œWe must come together as a community. We can fight this together,â€ Duncan said. Find your ASA chapter online for more information and take advantage of this resource.