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DEA Raids Pot Grower Licensed by Mendocino County; “They Came in Guns Blazing,” Says Grower

| October 13, 2011
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A drug agent stands in a field of marijuana outside of Redding last year. (Photo: Michael Montgomery/California Watch)

Update Friday, 4:20 p.m. Click here for an interview with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

Update Friday, 1:10 p.m. Northstone Organics owner Matthew Cohen spoke to the Ukiah Daily Journal:

“They came in, guns blazing,” Cohen said of the Thursday morning raid. “They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns.”

The agents arrived at 6 a.m., handcuffed Cohen and his wife and stayed until about 2 p.m., taking 99 marijuana plants, computers and testing equipment, according to Cohen. He said the agents threatened to file federal charges against him, but made no arrests during the raid…

Cohen was operating within Mendocino County’s licensing program for medical marijuana growers. As KQED’s Michael Montgomery reported for The California Report in July, Mendocino County is the “only place in California with an ordinance that makes it legal to be a cannabis farmer.” Montgomery even tagged along on a sheriff department’s visit to Cohen’s farm:

At an organic farm set in the sun-baked hills north of Ukiah, Mendocino sheriff Lieutenant Randy Johnson is having a most unusual meeting with the farm’s owner, Matt Cohen…

The two men walk toward rows of bushy, bright green marijuana plants bulging out of a fenced compound at the back of Cohen’s farm. Just a couple years ago, Johnson most likely would have been cutting down these plants and hauling them away as evidence. But today he’s here to inspect them.

Each plant on Cohen’s farm has a red tag, stamped with a unique number that’s registered with the sheriff’s department. Under a county ordinance, Cohen can have up to 99 of these plants, and each can yield up to 15 pounds of dry bud. He delivers the processed marijuana to customers in the Bay Area who have a doctor’s recommendation as required by state law. The program costs pot farmers like Cohen up to $10,000 a year, and they must submit to monthly inspections by deputies like Johnson…

Cohen says the program allows marijuana growers to work and live more openly. “You meet somebody at the coffee shop and they say what do you do? Hey, I’m a cannabis farmer. It’s a big difference.”

Mendocino is the only place in California with an ordinance that makes it legal to be a cannabis farmer…Allman says county supervisors started the program out of frustration with the state’s medical-marijuana law, which doesn’t spell out how the industry should be regulated. So Allman says it’s been hard for everyone, from growers to law enforcement, to know what’s legal and what isn’t.

“If I could put a subtitle on what we are doing, we are trying to remove the grey area,” says Allman. “And if we can remove the inconsistencies, if we can have people not confused about the marijuana laws then I have succeeded.”

Allman says the fees collected from legal growers help pay the department to hunt down illegal ones. But Tommy LaNier of the National Marijuana Initiative doesn’t see a distinction.

“All marijuana is illegal. There’s no question about it,” says LaNier. “Tom’s got a tough problem, but in my point of view it’s illegal.” LaNier helps coordinate enforcement actions under the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. He insists that neither California’s marijuana law, nor the Mendocino licensing program, are allowed under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“You need to be extremely careful when you enact laws that are in violation of the federal statues, because it won’t fly,” says LaNier… (He) says a federal crackdown could be coming. The Justice Department recently warned that local governments — and officials — who run permit programs like Mendocino’s could face federal prosecution, regardless of state law.

“Those entities, whether it be a city or county that facilitates in the allowance of that through some type of mechanism, whether it’s a permit program or something like that, could be a target? They could be a target.”

Indeed. Last Friday, at a joint press conference of the four U.S. Attorneys for California, Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California, said the following:

“Another challenge in the Northern District of California and around the state is the phenomena of cities and counties assisting in the proliferation of marijuana shops and grow operations by licensing and ostensibly authorizing the commercial and very profitable cultivation and distribution of marijuana. In our view these licensing schemes are inconsistent with federal law.”

Here’s video of Matt Cohen speaking about Northstone Organics:

Yesterday’s posts:

Update 8:50 p.m. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat has the story up:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents on Thursday raided a medical marijuana cooperative that holds a Mendocino County Sheriff’s permit to grow medicinal pot, further demonstrating the gaping discrepancy between state and federal marijuana laws.

The seizure of 99 pot plants came less than a week after U.S. Justice Department prosecutors in California attorneys announced they would be cracking down on medical marijuana, which continues to be illegal under federal law 15 years after the state’s voters approved it.

DEA officials declined to comment on the raid on Northstone Organics, located about 10 miles north of Ukiah in Redwood Valley.

The early morning operation shook the medical marijuana community because Northstone has been a model of compliance with local and state laws. Full article

Update: 5:08 p.m. William Panzer, attorney for Matt Cohen of marijuana co-op Northstone Organics, told us the raid on Northstone, first publicized by marijuana advocacy group California NORML, has indeed occurred.

“Yes, it happened at Northstone Organics, and yes it happened at a residence,” said Panzer this afternoon. Panzer is on the NORML Board of Directors and is the co-author of the 1996 California initiative that legalized medical marijuana.

This dispensary does not have a storefront, but operates on a delivery-only basis, he said. “And Mr. Cohen lives on the same property where the medicine is cultivated.”

Panzer said there were eight agents total, including six DEA agents, one Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent, and one Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputy, who oversaw the operation.

He said he had not yet seen the search warrant — because agents confiscated Cohen’s computers — but the agents cut down all of the marijuana plants and confiscated records.

Earlier, a DEA spokesperson would only confirm to us that the agency was in Ukiah “conducting an enforcement action,” and said no specifics would be given until documents related to the search are unsealed.

Northstone Organics’ web site is down, but you can see it at the Google cache from October 7. And here’s the latest on Twitter.

(Matthew Cohen was featured in Frontline television special, produced in collaboration with KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Skip to 1:51 to see Cohen working with a Sheriff’s Deputy on a routine inspection.)

Watch One Sheriff’s Radical Experiment on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Last Wednesday, Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, along with the three other California U.S. Attorneys, announced coming law enforcement actions against medical marijuana dispensaries and growers.

Here’s part of what Haag said about the proliferation of California marijuana dispensaries at the joint press conference:

What we are finding is that people are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money. In short to engage in drug trafficking. And many of these drug trafficking operations are in plain site. In many communities like mine you can’t walk a mile without seeing multiple retail marijuana stores, sometimes surrounded by fences and patrolled by security guards. If you sit and watch for a moment, you see cars pulling over, seemingly young healthy people jumping out of the cars, running into the store, and emerging with paper bags full of marijuana.

Earlier post
From the Ukiah Journal:

Responding to several reports that federal agents raided the medical marijuana cooperative Northstone Organics Thursday morning, the DEA confirmed it was conducting enforcement operations in Ukiah.

Casey McEnry, a spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said Thursday that the operations were ongoing at about noon, and that she could not reveal further information because the documents were under court seal.

California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) reported Thursday morning that Northstone Organics was raided, and called the cooperative “a pioneering participant in Mendocino County’s innovative zip-tie’ program to license medical marijuana gardens.”

The program, through the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, issues zip ties to growers whose marijuana gardens meet state and county guidelines for medical grows, so the growers can affix them to the plants to show compliance.

Calls to the local cooperative, located on South State Street in Ukiah, were unanswered shortly after noon.

McEnry said DEA agents were not at Northstone Organics, but were at a Ukiah residence.

Local authorities, including the MCSO and Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, knew of marijuana enforcement operations in the Ukiah Valley Thursday morning but did not confirm the location.

DEA Public information Officer Casey McEnry told KQED’s Sasha Khoka that she could only confirm the agency is “in Ukiah today conducting an enforcement action,” but wouldn’t give any more specifics until documents related to the search are unsealed.

The web site of Northstone Organics, which medical marijuana advocates believe is the target of the raid, is currently down, and no one is answering the phone.

As you can see below, the purported raid on Northstone Organics is being widely distributed on Twitter. The “Medical Cannabis Patient Compassionate Center” Axis of Love in San Francisco is calling for a demonstration tomorrow to protest the action.



 

In July, Matthew Cohen of Northstone Organics was featured on KQED TV’s special on the pot-growing boom, Republic of Cannabis. As the show depicts, Cohen has registered with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department and is operating with the department’s permission.

Watch the show here.

 

Last Wednesday, Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, along with the three other California U.S. Attorneys, announced coming law enforcement actions against medical marijuana dispensaries and growers.

Here’s part of what Haag said about the proliferation of California marijuana dispensaries at the joint press conference:

What we are finding is that people are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money. In short to engage in drug trafficking. And many of these drug trafficking operations are in plain site. In many communities like mine you can’t walk a mile without seeing multiple retail marijuana stores, sometimes surrounded by fences and patrolled by security guards. If you sit and watch for a moment, you see cars pulling over, seemingly young healthy people jumping out of the cars, running into the store, and emerging with paper bags full of marijuana.

Audio and a transcript of Haag’s comments at the joint announcement last week.

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  • http://holdenweb.com/ Steve Holden

    “What we are finding is that people are using the cover of medical marijuana to make extraordinary amounts of money…” Maybe the DEA should start busting Wall Street?

  • Fedupwithstupid

    The laws of supply and demand trump federal law. Always have,always will.

  • Dana Doss

    I do not smoke anymore. I do however support legalization. Did Barack Obama not make a commitment to leave enforcement to individual states? It is sad that law enforcement can trump the will of the American voters.

  • Paul J. Doke

    We now live in a Corporatocracy, which is dominated by Big Pharma and its hired Goons, the DEA, the FDA, and the Federal “Justice” Department, all working in concert to prevent American patients from accessing a medication that is both free, and does not have to be purchased from the “Company-Store” of Big Pharma—this is the only reason that I can see as to WHY the government continues to deny modern scientific evidence to Cannabis safety and effectiveness. The popular will of 80 percent of American Voters is being utterly and capriciously IGNORED—all in a conspiratorial effort by the government to protect Big Pharma’s “TURF”…