What's the Matter with San Diego? An Anti-Marijuana City in the Green Oasis of California
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San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis claims to be a friend of medical marijuana, but one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the local medical marijuana community who would agree with her. This "friend" coordinated mass raids against medical marijuana dispensaries there in 2006, again in February of this year, and yet again just last week.
It is part and parcel of a pattern of bitter, recalcitrant refusal on the part of San Diego county officials to abide by the will of the voters and accept the state's medical marijuana law. The conservative county Board of Commissioners is notorious for its opposition to medical marijuana, going so far as pursuing a quixotic and costly legal challenge to state laws, which it lost in every court that heard it.
On Tuesday, the Board unanimously extended for 10 months a moratorium on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. After its court challenge to the state law was defeated, the Board is now grudgingly allowing staff to develop regulations for dispensaries, but in the meantime, DA Dumanis is picking them off in batches.
The city of San Diego has been a bit more friendly. Last week, just one day before Dumanis' raiders struck, the City Council voted to implement a task force to create recommendations for regulating collectives and co-ops in accordance with guidelines issued earlier this year by the state attorney general. But if the City Council is working with the medical marijuana community, the San Diego Police Department is not. Instead, it has joined forces with Dumanis and her conservative cronies to attack the dispensaries.
Last week's raids shuttered 14 dispensaries in San Diego, the North County, and South Bay, and resulted in 33 arrests -- 31 under state charges and two under federal charges -- including wheelchair-bound patients hauled away by armed and uniformed law enforcement agents. Dumanis assembled squads of San Diego Police, San Diego County Sheriff's officers, DEA agents, and IRS agents to swoop down on the dispensaries, make arrests, seize cash and medicine, and disrupt the local medical marijuana distribution system.
While the DEA was present, last week's raids were Dumanis's baby. Only two of those arrested face federal charges.
"It was a joint investigation with the sheriff's department and the police department," said San Diego DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick. "We were asked for our assistance. We were not at every location."
Roderick declined to spell out how DEA San Diego is interpreting the current Justice Department position on not pursuing medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal unless they are in violation of state law. "I can't comment on policy," she said. "It's not made by the DEA."
"Like most San Diegans, I support the use of legitimate and legal medical marijuana use," Dumanis said at a press conference touting the busts. "However, it appears these so-called 'marijuana dispensaries' are nothing more than for-profit storefront drug dealing operations run by drug dealers hiding behind the state's medical marijuana law."
"We're not surprised at all, but very disappointed," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "What Dumanis is doing is simply unacceptable. If she has legitimate concerns about how dispensaries are operating, whether they're operating as collectives, she could use civil actions, she could use letters and accountants. There is no call for bringing in the DEA, arresting people in wheelchairs, scaring the hell out of patients, and shutting off medical marijuana access for very sick people. It's her tactics that we're really concerned with," she said.