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Pot clubs busted in District 9

By Jamie Luck, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday May 04, 2002

A federal judge ruled against several medical marijuana clubs Friday, and in favor of the federal government, possibly indicating a wider clamp-down on medical marijuana use. 

The summary judgment favored the U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit it initially filed against several Northern California marijuana clubs back in 1998. The defense lawyer for the Oakland Cannabis Buyer’s Cooperative, one of the groups named in the suit, says the group will definitely appeal the ruling. 

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that “there is no genuine material dispute that defendants violated [federal drug law] several times in 1997 by distributing marijuana,” but stopped short of granting the permanent injunction against the clubs the government requested. 

The judge was following through with his intention to remedy the case, which he first made clear during a hearing on April 19. He did not rule on many of the key arguments presented by defense, instead basing his decision on deference to the federal Controlled Substances Act.  

The timing of the ruling coincides with a Cannabis Freedom Rally scheduled from noon to 6p.m. today at San Francisco’s UN Plaza. Some say the ruling is part of a fresh wave of marijuana prosection by the federal government. 

“In light of this summary judgement, we expect further DEA raids in the Bay Area,” said California NORML (National Organzation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) coordinator Dale Gieringer. “We’ve seen a lot of activity — people following patients around and spying on clubs, not to mention raids on minor offenders.”  

A study by NORML shows that the number of medical marijuana prosecutions in California is on the rise since Sept. 11th. DEA chief Asa Hutchinson has publicly stated his support for President Bush’s anti-drug policy, which links casual drug use to terrorism. Over 20 people are currently on trial for cultivating medical marijuana, and the DEA has raided and shut down a Los Angeles cannabis resource center and a clinic in El Dorado County in 2002 alone. Local authorities have by and large not been involved in medical marijuana arrests and raids. 

The attorney for the Oakland Co-op believes the group stands a good chance in appeals court. “We will be appealing the decision. We feel we have a good shot at success in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” said attorney Robert Raich. “Judge Breyer ignored or misconstrued numerous facts and legal arguments we presented. By focusing only on a remedy to the case, he allowed no discussion of the key issues.” 

Raich cites numerous issues that weren’t fully addressed in court, including states’ rights, individual rights under the Ninth Amendment, and applicable commerce laws.  

Though California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996 to allow medical marijuana use for cancer, AIDS, and other chronic illnesses, the Supreme Court since ruled that federal drug laws not only supercede state law but that there is no basis for a medical exception to current federal drug laws. 

Questions to the U.S. Department of Justice about the case were referred to Washington, D.C.-based spokesman Charles Miller, who preferred to keep his comments short and sweet: “Based on what we’ve heard, we’re pleased with the ruling, and that’s all we have to say at this time.”  

Of the six clubs initially named in the suit, only three remain in existence: the Oakland Cannabis Buyer’s Cooperative, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Ukiah Cannabis Buyer’s Club. The Oakland club has been operating under a temporary injunction that forbids it from distributing pot but allows it to issue identity cards to verified medical marijuana patients.