DEA Continues California Crackdown As It Faces $20 Million Lawsuit Over Prisoner Mistreatment

CANNABIS CULTURE – In what’s been a daily battleground in Caiifornia, the DEA spread more of its nastygrams to medical marijuana collectives and landlords across the state, even as the news hits that the agency mistakenly left a UCSD student in a holding cell for five days without food and water following a bust at a 4/20 party.

UC San Diego student Daniel Chong, 23, has come forward to describe his ordeal and file a $20 million lawsuit against the DEA after the “life altering” experience he had, drinking his own urine to survive, and then attempting suicide, all the while banging on the walls to be heard and rescued.

An official said Chong was arrested on 4/21, but Chong says he was taken into custody while attending a 4/20 party at a friend’s house. (Did they think he was related to Tommy?)

DEA San Diego Acting Special Agent-In-Charge William R. Sherman said in a statement Wednesday that he was troubled by the treatment of Daniel Chong and extends his “deepest apologies” to him. US Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Darrell Issa each asked for further investigation, according to NBC San Diego.

The next day, reports came in that the DEA, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, IRS and Santa Barbara police, served search warrants at several collectives and gardens in Santa Barbara county. Three asset-forfeiture lawsuits were filed in US District Court in Los Angeles as part of the operation, and more warning letters have been sent. “All known marijuana stores in Santa Barbara County are now the subject of federal enforcement actions,” said to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Federal prosecutors filed forfeiture actions on April 23 against The Green Door Wellness Center and the Green Tiger Collective, both in Novato. The Green Tiger has closed, but the Green Door is fighting to stay open. Many residents spoke at a Jan. 10 Novato City Council meeting in support of Green Door.

“I have restless leg syndrome and arthritis,” resident Larry Rothschild told the press. “My alternative was opiates.” Rothschild said he’s afraid of having to visit dangerous neighborhoods to get his medicine if the dispensary is closed.

CalNORML legal committee attorney Bill McPike reports that letters under the masthead “Operation Mercury” are being passed out under the name of Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, the recipient of a Homeland Security award in 2011. The letters state, “This office has received information that the above-reference property is being used to cultivate and/or distribute marijuana in violation of federal law,” and threaten the owner with forfeiture, criminal and civil penalties unless they cease all “criminal” activity on their property within 14 days. “It is not a defense to claim the property is providing so-called ‘medical marijuana,” the letter continues. “Those who allow their property to be used for such activities do so at their peril.”

Listed on the masthead are the DEA, Bureau of Land Management, Central Valley HDTA (High Density Drug Trafficking Agency), Homeland Security Investigations, IRS, National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Attorney’s Office, and the sheriffs and district attorneys of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, and Tulare counties. US Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced his plan to go after big growers and their lands in the Eastern District at a press conference in Sacramento where his answer to the question, “Have you ever smoked pot?” was, “I went to college.”

At the state level, after fighting off one zero-tolerance DUID bill (AB2552-Torrez), activists are rallying again against SB50 (Correa/Blakeslee), which would make it a crime for a person to have a controlled substance in his or her blood while driving a vehicle. Originally introduced as a political reform bill, SB50 was gutted and as currently written would make every medical marijuana patient, as well as anyone driving with controlled substances like Vicodin and Valium, a DUI case. Read the full text of the bill.

On the local front, CalNORML is fielding dozens of frantic calls from would-be growers who aren’t sure what the rules are as the short arm of local law seeks to choke out pot growers everywhere, or at least in the less enlightened parts of the state.

An overflow crowd jeered as Yuba County Supervisors passed a restrictive medical marijuana cultivation ordinance at their May 1 meeting. An ad hoc committee of two supervisors will continue studying the issue for possible changes before final adoption next month. The Yuba County Growers Association, which boasts over 2000 members, is poised to file for an injunction if the ordinance is not amended. Nevada county is set to pass an ordinance on May 8, and Sutter county will have a study session on the topic on the 15th. Read more.

Attorney James Devine was in court today to challenge Kern County’s 12-plant limit in a collective grow case. McPike has challenged the Fresno county ordinance banning all outdoor growing; the case has been delayed until May 18.

McPike had a victory on 4/20 at a trial in Butte County, where the jury found that the District Attorney did not make his case against two marijuana growers, only one of whom had a 215 note. The verdict was not guilty on four marijuana counts and two weapons enhancements, with the DA’s office offering photos of assault weapons taken elsewhere.

After the verdict, jurors expressed “strong opinions about corrupt cops and legalizing marijuana,” one observer said. That’s fine in state court, but federal defendants will have to depend on informed juries who are willing to nullify, since federal trials are kangaroo courts where no medical defense can be made. California won reform of its forfeiture laws, lead by FEAR attorney Brenda Grantland and CalNORML attorney Bill Panzer, but the feds can still forfeit and that equation has invited more federal involvement.

Also on the plus side, San Francisco Congresswoman and Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in support of medical marijuana in California as the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee joined their counterparts in San Francisco in passing a resolution condemning the federal actions (see text below).

And in another bright spot this week, TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel, chosen to roast the President and others at this year’s White House Correspondents dinner, asked Obama to his uncomfortable grin, “What is it with the marijuana crackdown? Seriously, what is the concern? We will deplete the nation’s Funyon supply?” Kimmel then asked the crowd to raise their hands if they’d never smoked pot. Very few hands went up. Maybe he’ll even ask pot-loving actress Kristen Stewart (Twilight) about it when she guests on his show on Monday.

So the US is a nation whose President smoked pot, whose best and brightest giggle about enjoying it, but whose low-hanging fruit are ripe for the plucking by meanies who don’t even remember who they’re locking up. A country “with liberty and justice for all” is what we pledge allegiance to, not what we’ve got now.

San Diego NORML, along with other local groups and activists, will be holding a protest Monday, May 7, at 4:20 p.m. at the San Diego DEA office, 4560 Viewridge Avenue in San Diego.

“Please come to show your support for Daniel Chong, and to condemn recent actions taken by DEA agents and the federal government,” said attorney Michael Cindrich of SD NORML. “Feel free to bring a sign, banner, megaphone, or anything else that will help publicize our message. We hope to see you all there! ”

The Occu-Pot is on.

Text of the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee Resolution, passed May 1:

WHEREAS, the Administration promised that it would not use Justice Department resources to try to circumvent related state laws, insisting that medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments, and in March 2009, emphasized that the Justice Department would only target medical marijuana providers who violate both federal and state law; and,

WHEREAS, The will of California voters is violated when federal agents from the US Marshal, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Internal Revenue Service descend upon any dispensary, and considerable public resources are expended on raids at a time that local cities have serious public safety challenges, an insufficient number of police personnel, and could benefit from an infusion of federal resources and assistance focused on the persistent issues of illegal guns and gun violence;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee decries the recent federal raid on lawful California State dispensaries as a breach of promise and ill-directed use of taxpayer dollars, and that the federal government be called on to adhere to Administration promises about respecting state laws on medical marijuana by directing federal agencies to cease and desist from any further such action in California; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution be forwarded to County Democratic Central Committees statewide requesting either their concurrence with this Resolution or passage of similar resolutions and to the California Democratic Party for presentation to and consideration by the Executive Committee at its next meeting, and that copies of this resolution be sent to Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John A, Perez, and all Democratic State Senators and Assembly members who represent Alameda County in the California State Legislature.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.