San Mateo raids highlight legal limbo for cannabis clubs

As any medical marijuana advocate would tell you, operating a cannabis club on the Peninsula has always been a major buzzkill.

Wednesday afternoon’s federal raid, which shut down three medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown San Mateo, spotlights what has been more than a decade of resistance to the clubs, said Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“Patients are in limbo, and it’s been an ongoing problem in San Mateo County since Prop. 215 passed,” he said.

Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. But the law remains shrouded in ambiguity — pot is still illegal under federal law. And the legality of cannabis dispensaries is subject to varied interpretation by different municipalities.

San Mateo County District Attorney James Fox, whose office assisted in the federal investigation, believes dispensaries are violating the terms of Proposition 215.

While medical marijuana is legal under California law, it must be grown by patients or their primary caregivers, or provided by other patients in a collective, he said.

“There’s no way any of the places searched [during the raid] are primary caregivers or collectives. All they were doing was collecting their money,” Fox said.

With Wednesday’s shutdown of the three clubs, only one medical marijuana club remains in the county, Gieringer said.

According to Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Joycelyn Barnes, federal agents seized $30,000 and 50 pounds of marijuana, hash and pot-laced food during the searches. San Mateo police and the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force assisted in the raids on Patients Choice Resource Cooperative at 164 South Blvd., Peninsula Patients Local Option at 297 Claremont St. and MHT at 60 E. Third Ave.

Gieringer criticized local authorities for taking part in the raid.

“I don’t think the DEA goes ahead without local assistance,” he said. “Were the clubs causing any problem whatsoever? I think the San Mateo police owe everyone an explanation.”

San Mateo police Lt. Mike Brunicardi said the police department has an obligation — both to its citizens and to allied agencies — to assist in investigations of illegal activity.

San Mateo City Manager Arne Croce said all three pot clubs had cropped up over the past two years and weren’t forthcoming with city officials about what they were selling. He said the city had recently received several complaints about the outlets.

tbarak@examiner.com

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