A few weeks ago, Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery was excitedly putting together a major series of articles devoted to medical marijuana.
The articles will provide the most comprehensive look at the medical marijuana scene ever presented in a magazine, and will be published in the next issue of Cannabis Culture (available in early September). The articles were to be accompanied by photos from a Sacramento, California medical cannabis club named Alternative Specialties, operated by Louis Fowler.
But before CC reporters could get an interview with Fowler, the drug war intervened. On Thursday, July 7, Sacramento County sheriffs busted Fowler and his shop in a massive raid that also involved his home, and the home of his parents and sister.
Police took financial records from Fowler’s shop, and also claim to have seized a semiautomatic pistol and an illegal fully automatic assault weapon, both of which Fowler is disallowed from possessing because of a previous felony conviction.
The DEA was in on the raid; DEA spokespersons say they removed “hundreds” of cannabis plants from the Sacramento shop, which opened a year ago.
Fowler is alleged to have been in trouble with the law before. Reports say he served several years in state prison for embezzling $5 million from the State of California in the 1980’s when he was a government accountant.
Police officials say they targeted the shop because Fowler failed to comply with business license and zoning regulations.
Fowler’s mother, Linda M. Fowler, heads the North Sacramento Unified School District board. His sister, Mary Berg, worked at Alternative Specialties and was reportedly trying to start her own medpot club in nearby Citrus Heights.
Fowler was a high profile medpot advocate who was one of few California medical marijuana providers to do press interviews defending marijuana dispensaries in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June anti-pot ruling in the Raich case, which was seen by government officials as a green light for federal and local agents to again begin raiding cannabis dispensaries after a hiatus while the Raich case was working its way to a conclusion.
The Sacramento bust is typical of developments statewide. Many medical dispensaries have closed or gone completely underground, others have been raided, and there is infighting in the marijuana community about what is or is not a legitimate medical marijuana operation.
Three other pot clubs operate in Sacramento County, and although some patients criticized Fowler’s arrest as an example of federal interference in California’s medpot scene, other patients and medpot lobbyists said his criminal history, the alleged presence of guns, and his failure to get a business license has created a bad public image for medical herb and dispensaries.
Eighty-one miles west in San Francisco, the medpot community, citizens, and local officials are engaged in a similar debate about the future and legitimacy of pot clubs.
Media reports have quoted pot club owners and managers decrying “newcomers” who want money and sales volume and don’t respect patients and community values.
Local police claim some of their city’s largest clubs are fronts for organized crime. The DEA swooped in on several clubs two weeks ago, arresting 19 people and seizing thousands of pot plants.
San Francisco officials are trying to create strict med cannabis club regulations while imposing a moratorium on opening of new clubs. Officials speculate there are at least 43 dispensaries in the city, but admit that they aren’t sure, and that there are probably a lot more.
Influential medical cannabis advocates like Wayne Justmann, who was a valuable aid and bodyguard for medpot pioneer-hero Dennis Peron in the 1990’s, told the press he approves of the city’s efforts to clean up the medical cannabis dispensary scene.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Ross Mirkarimi is one of many local officials who said that the city’s support of medical cannabis created a climate ripe for abuses.
A different type of situation exists in conservative Orange County near Los Angeles, where medical patient-cultivator Tom Waters was raided this week. Southern California has not embraced cannabis dispensaries in the same manner as Northern California- there are fewer dispensaries and less official guidance on how Prop. 215 can be implemented.
Waters told Cannabis Culture that he was growing a medical garden to help himself and two other patients. Waters has a degenerative spinal disorder and a digestive disorder, and he feels cannabis is the best medicine he can use to fight those diseases.
He says he was already becoming an “activist” before the bust, lobbying politicians and community members and writing letters to editors, but now feels he has to really come out of the medpot closet because “the Orange County Sheriffs Department raided my house and stole tens of thousands of dollars worth of my medicine.”
Waters describes the confiscation of his garden as a theft because he firmly believes in “the will of the voters who passed our medical pot law, Proposition 215, and because I had a legitimate marijuana recommendation from my wonderful, talented and beautiful physician.”
In Waters’ opinion, police should have looked at his medical cannabis recommendation, verified its legitimacy, and then left his home. He thinks he was ratted out by a brainwashed neighbor who is prejudiced against cannabis users and with whom Waters was in a dispute because the neighbor’s lawn maintenance worker had been using a polluting leaf blower that blew toxic debris onto Waters’ outdoor organic food garden.
He says Orange County is one of few places in California that doesn’t provide local guidance for medical marijuana patients or dispensaries, and that the police raid was needlessly brutal.
“Cops are basically above the law here,” he reports. “They made lots of threats about what would happen if I got a lawyer and tried to fight the raid. One of my primary concerns is for my wife. Although she supports my decision to go public protesting this raid, I worry about her safety.The police made lots of threats when they left. They pointed guns at her head. It felt like we were in a scary movie. The police seem to have anger management issues.”
Police tried to coerce Waters into “cooperating in their investigation” in exchange for not being sentenced to jail time, which Waters adamantly refused to do. Ironically, they later told him there was probably no room for him in jail, and that he would likely get probation. He was not arrested, but police took his medicine and have presented the case to the District Attorney, who will make a final determination on whether charges will be laid.
Waters says he is worried the local cops will call in the DEA and will continue to harass his family, even though there is no evidence of any illegality under state law. He says he was giving medicine away to the two patients he was assisting, not selling it; one of the patients has colon cancer and the other suffers from chronic pain. He insists he was not breaking the law and that it was police who broke the law by destroying his garden.
For more coverage of developments in the medical cannabis world, consult Cannabis Culture‘s website and upcoming issues of Cannabis Culture magazine.