A half-dozen Marin County Sheriff’s deputies and a court-appointed Special Master armed with a search warrant hit a Berkeley marijuana clinic Tuesday but left empty-handed.
The officers weren’t looking for money or pot. Instead, they wanted any evidence—electronic or on paper—that would show the clinic had been buying marijuana from six suspects named in a search warrant.
“They never entered the building,” said Brad Senesac, who had just started his first week as public relations director for the Berkeley Patients Group clinic, which is located at 2747 San Pablo Ave.
When Senesac and clinic community liaison Becky DeKeuster told the officers they kept no records, on paper or computerized, about their suppliers, “they shook our hands, said ‘thank you,’ and left,” Senesac said.
After hitting the Berkeley clinic, the officers went on to the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, then to The Divinity Tree in San Francisco, encountering a similar lack of information at each location, said Oakland attorney William G. Panzer, who represents the clinics.
“Most dispensaries don’t keep records,” Senesac said. “It’s all in the brain,” he said, gesturing toward his temple.
The warrant, issued by Marin County Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Boren, was based on evidence supplied by Detective Kevin Kershaw of the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force.
Named in the warrant were six men, ranging in age from 38 to 52. No towns of residence were listed on the search warrants.
Moments after the officers appeared at the clinic, e-mail and text alerts flew to clinic supporters, who began arriving within minutes, DeKeuster said. At least one supporter came from Marin County.
DeKeuster, who was home when the alert sounded, said she was confused by the initial report, which said officers from Madison County had arrived. Between 25 and 30 supporters arrived with 15 minutes, along with reporters who were on the e-mail alert list.
“The officers were low key, and they didn’t even enter the building,” DeKeuster said. They left so quickly that supporters didn’t have time to unfurl a protest banner before the detectives had departed.
The clinic only receives marijuana from its members, who are permitted by state law to grow for their own consumption, Senesac said.
Pot grown by legitimate patients can’t be sold to clinics under California law, though legally authorized patients are entitled to buy both from clinics and street dealers—a thorny legal issue Panzer says should be clarified.
“Even if it’s grown specifically for patients, it’s illegal to sell, though it’s lawful for dispensaries to buy for the use of patients,” he said.
Law enforcement officers have grown more sophisticated about enforcement of cannabis laws, Panzer said.
The attorney criticized the investigators for appearing at the clinic, instead of serving a subpoena, the usual way law enforcement officers go after records.
Still, he said, he appreciated that Marin County Deputy District Attorney Karen E. Lamb did ask the court to appoint a Special Master to take charge of any records that might have been seized.
A Special Master reviews sensitive records to prevent disclosure of sensitive or privileged information, such a patient medical records.
While the Obama administration has promised to end raids on California marijuana clinics, at least one Drug Enforcement Agency raid has targeted a Los Angeles clinic since the inauguration, and Panzer said he’s not overly optimistic that there will be a significant shift in enforcement policies.
In San Francisco, the key post of U.S. attorney is still held by a George W. Bush appointee, Joseph P. Russoniello.
The San Pablo Avenue clinic has about 2,000 members from Berkeley and a similar number from North Oakland, DeKeuster said. Other members come from throughout the East Bay.
The clinic sells marijuana in smokable and edible forms as well as cannabis extracts and concentrates, she said. The clinic is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
While the two clinic officials acknowledged that they were alarmed by what they first thought might have been a raid, both said their first concerns were for patients. But the arrival of the officers didn’t seem to put a crimp in businesses, as patients—a perhaps surprising number of whom were elderly and walking with the aid of crutches and walkers—continued to arrive, leaving, mostly, with smiles on their faces.
Tuesday morning’s action was the first encountered by the clinic since it opened nearly 10 years ago. Clinic organizers will be holding a 10th anniversary celebration Oct. 31 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. For more information on the clinic, see their website at berkeleypatientsgroup.com.