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Feds launch raids on California medical marijuana providers June 23, 2005 - statehornet.com
SACRAMENTO - Federal drug agents launched a wide-ranging crackdown on medical marijuana providers Wednesday, charging a husband and wife in Sacramento and raiding more than 20 San Francisco dispensaries.
In San Francisco, drug agents conducted searches of three pot clubs and more than 20 homes and businesses, capping a more than two-year investigation into an alleged marijuana trafficking ring.
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. attorney's office would not say how many people were arrested or give other details, pending a news conference Thursday.
In Sacramento, Dr. Marion Fry, 48, and her husband, attorney Dale C. Schafer, 50, were arrested on a sealed indictment handed down a week ago. It charged them with conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana between August 1999 and September 2001 from their storefront California Medical Research Center in Cool, a Sierra foothill community northeast of Sacramento.
"Marijuana was legal in this part of the United States until this month, so any attempt to hold them as serious criminals would have been, I think, inappropriate," said their attorney, Laurence Lichter. "They are charged with violating the old marijuana laws, which are now back in effect, and I'm hoping that the jury will see ... that Dr. Fry was acting as a physician."
Law enforcement officials in Sacramento and San Francisco said the actions were unrelated and were part of independent, long-running investigations.
Lichter, however, said he believed Wednesday's arrests and sweep may have been prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court's medical marijuana ruling two weeks ago. The high court said federal law prohibiting the sale and distribution of narcotics supersedes state medical marijuana laws.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown in Sacramento said the Supreme Court ruling "lays to rest any question whether federal authorities have jurisdiction."
California is one of 10 states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer supports the state's medical marijuana law, but his Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement was involved in the San Francisco investigation, spokeswoman Teresa Schilling said.
"It's more than medical marijuana. This was an illegal marijuana operation," she said.
Gordon Taylor, the assistant special agent in charge of the Sacramento DEA office, alleged that Fry and Schafer also crossed that line. The indictment states the couple was growing more than 100 plants during the period in question.
"They were taking their (medical) clients and turning them into their customer base" for illegal marijuana sales, Taylor said.
Both were freed without posting bond after an initial court hearing Wednesday.
That investigation has been pending since December 2000, when drug agents said they seized several United Parcel Service packages containing marijuana.
In September 2001, the DEA seized 28 filing cabinets full of patient records from the Medical Research Center, which doubled as Fry's doctor's office. That raid triggered a legal battle over patient privacy.
The DEA ended Fry's registration to dispense controlled substances in December 2002 based on the investigation, but no charges were filed until the indictments last week.
Elsewhere Wednesday, the Rhode Island House passed a bill that would allow certain patients to grow and smoke marijuana. A similar bill passed the state Senate two weeks ago.
Gov. Don Carcieri has threatened to veto the legislation, but lawmakers said they are confident the bill had enough votes to override a veto.
"For me, it has always been a matter of compassion - simple compassion," said Democratic Rep. Steven Costantino. "And I've always been amused by the fear that this is going to cause all of a sudden" an out-of-control use of marijuana.
Alaskans can continue medicinal marijuana use July 22, 2005 - adn.com
Policy clarified in light of Supreme Court ruling last month.
Alaskans can continue to register with state health authorities to smoke marijuana for medicinal reasons despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that upheld federal laws banning the drug.
The state attorney general, David Marquez, has advised the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services that the court's June 6 decision does not forbid the agency from registering medical marijuana users, according to a statement Marquez issued Thursday.
In the immediate wake of the high court's decision, the state was contemplating suspending the medical marijuana registration program, among a range of actions it could have taken in response, Alaska Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones said Thursday.
The administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski is known to be hostile to another category of legal use under Alaska laws, in which recreational users can have up to four ounces of the drug within their homes. That limited legal use was reaffirmed in 2004 by the state's Court of Appeals, which cited the Alaska constitution's privacy provision.
Medical users envisioned the court's decision as new ammunition for states that wanted to suppress all use of the drug.
At least two states with medical marijuana programs, Oregon and California, suspended their registration programs after the court issued its ruling. Both states recently resumed the programs after their legal authorities reviewed the court's action.
All use of marijuana is banned under federal law everywhere in the country.
Alaska is one of 10 states that authorize marijuana use for medical reasons, providing the user provides a doctor's prescription and registers with the state. That exception to state law was authorized by a voters' initiative in 1998. About 200 people are now registered in the program, according to Morones, the Law spokesman. About 570 have been registered since the beginning.
The case before the Supreme Court, Gonzales v. Raich, was brought by California users of medical marijuana trying to assert a state's right to regulate such use over federal prohibition.
The court decided that the Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution trumped state laws, asserting federal authority to ban use of the drug despite its legality within a state in certain circumstances.
Within the Supreme Court's ruling, Alaska found its legal haven in what Marquez called a "narrow constitutional question."
"We start with the presumption that our state statutes are valid," he said. "Absent a clear statement in Raich that federal law pre-empts a state's ability to regulate the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes, Alaska's registration scheme should continue to remain in effect."
Marquez warned Alaskans, however, that any possession, distribution or use of dope remains a crime under U.S. law.
Federal law enforcement authorities in Alaska said last month that the court's ruling would not lead to increased prosecution of minor users; they're interested in major traffickers. They reiterated that posture Thursday.
Marquez's statement "is not going to change anything," said FBI Special Agent Eric Gonzalez.
The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which had threatened to sue Alaska and Oregon if they suspended their medical-marijuana registration, said the state's decision was welcome, though not surprising.
"What Alaska and now all 10 of the medical marijuana states have said essentially is the Supreme Court decision does nothing on the state level," said Bruce Mirken, a Marijuana Policy Project spokesman. "It's essentially business as usual. ... This was a real clear-cut decision, and the question is why a couple of states took so long."
Marquez also issued a "talking points" memorandum, listing reasons why marijuana should be illegal under all circumstances except authorized medical use. Those reasons include the drug's high potency today compared with 30 and 40 years ago and its increasing use among students as young as 11.
Murkowski's proposed legislation, which did not advance in the last legislative session, would make possession of any amount of non-medical dope at home illegal under state law. The proposal would not affect registered medical marijuana users.