Berkeley cannabis buyers clubs worried

Bruce Gertsman, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 02, 2001



The Drug Enforcement Agency raided a West Hollywood club last Thursday, and now local outfits fear that federal agents will turn their attention to Berkeley. Their No. 1 concern is not arrests, but the confiscation of patient medical records.  

“Our biggest concern is getting medication to patients,” said Dorrit Geshuri, coordinator for the Alliance of Berkeley Patients, a local medical marijuana advocacy organization. “The confiscating of records would be a big problem in reopening.”  

If medical records are confiscated, the clubs will not be able to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate patients, rendering clubs unable to sell marijuana to any registered buyer.  

“We’re definitely going to think of methods not to have the patients’ records available,” said Geshuri in response to a possible seizure. 

Medical marijuana advocates like Geshuri say federal agents confiscate the records for the sole reason of hindering pot sales.  

In the West Hollywood bust, no arrests were made. But the Los Angeles office of the U.S. District Attorney said the raid was part of an ongoing investigation, and agents were collecting evidence for possible future convictions. 

But activists say convictions are unlikely.  

Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, the agency that officially registers local patients, said most Americans accept marijuana as legitimate medicine. According to Jones, agents know the federal government would lose a criminal trial and merely want to disrupt the club’s operations. 

Patients who want to purchase marijuana from one of the cannabis clubs in Berkeley must obtain a private doctor’s prescription and then get a registration card from the cooperative. Doctors prescribe marijuana as medicine for a variety of conditions, from AIDS and cancer to arthritis and glaucoma. Jones estimated that about 7,000 active members in Oakland and Berkeley get their medical marijuana from the clubs. 

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Geshuri said the local cannabis clubs are currently building their relationship with the city of Berkeley, and “some people on city council are supportive.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington agreed. In the event of a raid, he said, the council would take the side of the clubs.  

“Doing whatever we can do to strengthen the clubs would be a high priority because they’re providing a valuable service,” he said. “The progressives see this as a medical need and it’s been approved by the voters, so we should facilitate implementing it.” 

The city’s health department also respects the clubs.  

“There’s a mutual coexistence and understanding we have with the clubs with Berkeley,” said Fred Medrano, director of Health and Human Services. “We are not really in the business of regulating the clubs per se, but we are allowing them to coexist with us to provide medical marijuana under the provision of 215.” 

The Berkeley Police Department and the cannabis clubs do not have a formal relationship, according to Lt. Cynthia Harris. However, she said the local police avoids shutting down the clubs, only enforcing marijuana laws “as they see it.”  

Marijuana for any use, including medicinal purposes, is illegal under federal law. In May, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 in opposition to the medical use of marijuana.