Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Medical marijuana dispensaries charged with drug trafficking

The Mercury News
San Diego (AP) - Federal prosecutors accused six people Thursday of illegally trafficking pot under the cover of California's medical marijuana laws - in some cases processed into baked goods, "Reefer's" peanut butter cups and "Splif" peanut butter.

Federal and state search warrants were executed at more than 11 locations throughout San Diego in a morning raid, and at least five people were arrested, authorities said. Federal charges were expected to be filed Friday, according to U.S. Attorney Carol Lam.

"They made thousands of dollars every day," Lam said. "Their motive was not the betterment of society. Their motive was profit."

One federal indictment accuses John Sullivan, 38, of growing more than 100 marijuana plants for distribution and distributing marijuana or processed marijuana-based goods from his two dispensaries, the Purple Bud Room in Pacific Beach and THC in San Diego.

Five managers of the Co-op San Diego were indicted separately on similar allegations. Wayne Hudson, 42; Christopher Larkin, 34; and Ross McManus, 39, are alleged to have distributed marijuana products through the co-op. Scott Wright, 40, and Michael Ragin, 34, are accused of growing hundreds of plants for the co-op at their homes.

Messages left at the dispensaries were not immediately returned.

Also, the San Diego County District Attorney has filed state charges against one of the men named in the federal indictment and nine others for selling marijuana and possessing marijuana for sale.

State charges were filed against Sullivan's THC dispensary and four other independent operations in San Diego. Prosecutors alleged that these dispensaries sold marijuana or marijuana-based products with little concern for legitimate medical need.

"The party is over," District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said at a news conference with federal prosecutors. She added that Proposition 215, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana for medical purposes, has been "severely abused by neighborhood pot dealers opening up storefronts."

Complaints from residents living near dispensaries precipitated an investigation beginning in September 2005 by the San Diego police, the county sheriff's department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Dumanis said.

Dumanis said that her office has "no intention" of preventing people who suffer chronic illnesses like AIDS, glaucoma or cancer from using medically prescribed marijuana to ease their pain.

But San Diego County has fought an ongoing battle to limit the impact of the medical marijuana law, which was approved in 1996 by 55 percent of voters.

San Diego has ignored a state requirement that counties issue identification cards to registered medical marijuana users and maintain a registry of people who apply for the cards.

In December, county supervisors sued the state of California and its director of health services in federal court, saying federal law that prohibits marijuana use trumps the state law. The county moved that lawsuit to state court in February to avoid bringing the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has sided in recent rulings with medical marijuana supporters. That suit is still pending.

The men indicted by the federal grand jury face a maximum of 40 years in prison and $2 million in fines for each of the allegations listed in the indictment, authorities said.

The San Diego County District Attorney's office released a complaint sent last week to the state medical board against four physicians alleging that they wrote "recommendations" for medical marijuana use - doctor's notes required by state law - to apparently healthy individuals.

By Allison Hoffman

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