Feds Close Santa Barbara Medical Cannabis Coops

DEA Targets City-Regulated Facitilites: Dep't of Republican Justice?
Cal. NORML Release - Sept 18, 2008

In response to federal threats of forfeiture, Santa Barbara's medical marijuana coops are closing their doors as of this Friday, September 19th. At an extraordinary meeting on Aug 5-6th, the Department of Justice and DEA warned landlords of Santa Barbara's MMJ coops that forfeiture charges would be filed against their property if they continued to harbor illegal activity after 45 days (this Friday).

Although many coop landlords in California have received "advisory" letters from the DEA warning of the possibility of forfeiture, this is the first time that US attorneys are known to have backed up the DEA letters with actual threats to file charges. The DEA is inspecting targeted properties to make sure they are in compliance by the deadline.

The order to close Santa Barbara's coops appears to have come directly from Washington, DC. The city of Santa Barbara and its government have been hospitable to medical marijuana. Two years ago, the city voted 66% for an initiative to make marijuana lowest enforcement priority. At one point Santa Barbara hosted 19 different cannabis coops. After a couple of them began causing complaints, the city council passed an ordinance to license and regulate them while restricting their number.

Unsatisfied, politically powerful Republican donors from Santa Barbara are said to have asked local officials to shut down all of the coops and, having failed to get action, taken their beef to federal officials through the Republican National Committee. The RNC has taken a hostile stance to California's medical marijuana law, attacking Sen. Obama's pledge to end the DEA raids. DEA officials have been tight-lipped about why Santa Barbara was targeted, but are said to have wanted to make an "example" of it. DOJ and DEA officials have made no similar move against the much more numerous cannabis coops in Los Angeles, even though it is in the same federal district as Santa Barbara.

Patient advocates marched in the streets of Santa Barbara last month to protest the federal crackdown, bearing shirts reading, "No Access is No Solution."

"The Bush administration bears responsibility for this politically inspired federal attack on Santa Barbara's autonomy and California's medical marijuana law," says California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer. "The DOJ indiscriminately picked on coops that had applied to abide by local regulations. The federal government is maliciously sabotaging local efforts to establish a legally regulated medical marijuana distribution system." Earlier this month, a San Jose federal court ordered hearings on whether similar DEA action against the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz might constitute a violation of the Tenth Amendment.

The DEA has conducted scores of raids on medical cannabis providers in California. In Santa Barbara, a federal grand jury indicted John Seidenberg of Santa Ynez for growing two medical marijuana gardens for a Santa Barbara patient collective.

So far, over 100 defendants have been federally charged in medical marijuana cases in California (See a list.) Included are many highly regarded caregivers who boasted strong support from patients and local communities.

A prime example is Charles Lynch of Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, who was recently convicted on federal marijuana charges despite having operated in legal accord with a city ordinance at the invitation of city officials. Lynch's attorneys have requested a retrial; there will be a rally in his support on Monday, Oct 6th, 11 am at the US District Couthouse, 312 N Spring St, Los Angeles.

Other recent DEA victims have included Mickey Martin and Jessica Sanders, who pled guilty to operating a medicinal cannabis edibles company in Oakland, and Eddy Lepp, who was found guilty of openly cultivating thousands thousands of plants in a Lake County caregiver grow-op.

- Release by D. Gieringer, Coordinator, California NORML