Tuesday, March 18, 2008

DEA back in town for pot shop crackdown


Even as local officials and community members discussed the merits of new legislation regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Barbara, others expressed concern that any ordinance will be negated if the federal Drug Enforcement Administration follows through on threats to close down local pot shops and seize property.
After delivering letters in September 2007 to at least 19 property owners in Santa Barbara County who rent space to dispensaries or operate their own, DEA agents reportedly returned recently to hand out a round of similar letters.

Frank Sanchez, manager of the Healing Center dispensary on San Andres Street, said a DEA agent stopped by on Monday and attempted to drop off a letter, adding that he was not in the shop at the time and did not talk with the official.
“They’ve done it to a couple of dispensaries around here, and three times to this one,” he said.
Although DEA officials refused to confirm any recent enforcement operations in the Santa Barbara area, citing a desire to protect ongoing investigations, they did say the city’s permanent ordinance regulating pot shops would not change their approach.
“It doesn’t really affect anything we’re doing,” DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen said. “We’re enforcing federal laws and those haven’t changed.”
Sanchez said the Healing Center doesn’t have any plans to shut down as a result of the recent DEA action.
“We’re just going to wait and see what happens,” he said.
Dr. Tharon Weighill, the owner of Sacred Mountain, a dispensary operating on Parker Way, also confirmed that federal agents have been in touch with him in recent days.
“We’ve had dialogue with the DEA and we feel pretty positive about it, as ironic as that might sound,” Weighill said.
He explained that Sacred Mountain is a small operation that rarely carries more than a pound of medical marijuana at any time and is lucky to see daily sales reach $100.
“Everyone is susceptible to a degree,” he said. “I just think there are probably bigger fish to fry than us. I almost assume they would find it comical to come here and shut us down.”
Weighill said although business drops off slightly when DEA agents come to town, he doesn’t have too much concern about federal enforcement efforts.
“I don’t see how they could view us as any kind of imminent threat,” he said.
Attempts to contact other dispensary operators in Santa Barbara for comment on recent DEA actions were not successful. A dispensary known as Pacific Greens — located on North Milpas Street, according to city staff — that purportedly had been the target of a recent raid appeared to be closed on Tuesday.

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