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Conyers Asks DEA for Answers on Medical Cannabis Raids

By Judith Scherr
Thursday May 08, 2008 - 09:53:00 AM

Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, didn’t mince words in a recent letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency asking for a response to allegations that the agency has stepped up raids on dispensaries of medical marijuana. 

He wrote the “DEA has dramatically intensified the frequency of paramilitary-style enforcement raids against individuals qualified to use medical cannabis under state law, their caregivers, and the dispensing collectives established to provide a safe place to access medical cannabis.” 

Conyers’ April 29 letter responded to calls from the mayors and city councils of San Francisco and Oakland, calling for oversight hearings in the judiciary committee regarded DEA tactics. (See full letter at 

According to Becky DeKeuster, Berkeley Patients Group Community Liaison, this letter is a preliminary step toward the committee’s holding full oversight hearings. 

While Conyers’ letter to Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart did not reference Berkeley, Mayor Tom Bates had added Berkeley’s voice to the call for oversight hearings into DEA tactics used against medical marijuana dispensaries.  

“We urgently need help from our congressional leaders to stem this federal interference in state health care law,” Bates wrote Conyers on April 24.  

Although California voters approved the Medical Use of Marijuana Initiative (Proposition 215) in 1996 by 56 percent—86 percent of Berkeley voters said “yes”—the DEA continues to undermine state and local laws protecting medical marijuana dispensaries, DeKeuster told the Planet. 

In July, the California Patients Group in West Hollywood, described by DeKeuster as a “sister” group to the Berkeley Patients Group, was raided by the DEA. “The facility was forced to close,” she said.  

A few days later in Berkeley, the DEA, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department, froze the $4,500 in the BPG’s bank account and the next day seized the funds.  

The assets have not been returned, DeKeuster said.  

A growing problem for medical marijuana dispensaries across the state is that the DEA is pressuring landlords not to rent to medical marijuana distributors, although this has not been the case with the BPG. “It doesn’t matter how upstanding the dispensary is,” DeKeuster told the Planet. “Property owners are scared.”  

Conyers referenced this problem in his letter to the DEA: “It has also come to my attention that DEA has sent hundreds of letters to property owners who lease property to medical cannabis dispensaries, threatening them with arrest and forfeiture of their property.” 

In Bates’ letter to Conyers, he described the Berkeley dispensaries: “Our three dispensaries have each been in operation for nearly a decade now, providing vital medicine and other wellness services to qualified patients. They are regulated, tax-paying members of our community, maintain clean, safe properties and play an active role in Berkeley’s civic life.”  

On Jan. 29, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a resolution authored by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Darryl Moore “opposing the attempts by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries and declaring the City of Berkeley as a sanctuary for medicinal cannabis use, cultivation, and distribution.”  

The resolution asked the Berkeley Police Department not to cooperate with DEA investigations or raids of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and dispensaries. (Item 27: ContentDisplay.aspx?id=9868).  

To resolve issues between the DEA and local jurisdictions, Conyers’ letter to the DEA suggests “the creation of an intergovernmental commission comprised of law enforcement, law makers and people affected by the laws, to review policy and provide recommendations that aim to bring harmony to federal and state laws.”