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Fed’s scare tactics cause more California dispensaries to close

By Hempology | July 28, 2007

The Bakersfield Californian, CA
26 Jul 2007
Sheriff Donny


Fear of Raids Leaves Only One Dispensary Operating

A battle is being waged in Kern County between the federal government and advocates for medical marijuana.  Right now, the feds are pummeling the competition.

Two more medical marijuana dispensaries closed Tuesday, leaving the county with only one operating dispensary, said Doug McAfee, president of the Bakersfield chapter of NORML, a pro-legalization group.  The closures come just over a week after a U.S.  Drug Enforcement Administration raid shut down Nature’s Medicinal Cooperative in Oildale.

Jim McGowen, owner of American Caregivers Collective, said keeping his dispensary open isn’t worth the risk.  He said he’ll watch state and national legislation to see if there’s a swing in favor of medical marijuana advocates. 

“Even with shutting down, I’m wondering if I’ll be arrested and thrown in prison for what I’ve already done,” McGowen said.

Even though he’s abiding by state law, McGowen could be raided at any time.  He produced his most recent inspection report, completed by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, which shows he was in full compliance with operating requirements.

McGowen was among a group of medical marijuana users and supporters who attended a meeting of county supervisors Tuesday.  The supervisors asked County Counsel Bernard Barmann to look into what the county can do to follow state law while the federal DEA busts area dispensaries and arrests employees.

Sweet Relief Compassionate Center was the other dispensary to close up shop.  No one answered the dispensary’s phone or door Wednesday afternoon.

California law allows the sale of medicinal marijuana to qualified patients.

The drug, however, is still illegal under federal law and anyone selling marijuana in the state can be federally prosecuted.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said last week he will no longer issue licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries because of the discrepancy between state and federal law.  He said federal law supersedes state law and the Sheriff’s Department will continue to assist DEA agents in raids.

Some customers of Sweet Relief Compassionate Center showed up at the store Wednesday, unaware it had closed.

Dell Davis, 60, said he is recovering from prostate cancer and suffers from sleep apnea and insomnia.  Marijuana helps him sleep and gets rid of his morning nausea.

The government should target users of other drugs, not pot, he said.

“Unfortunately that’s the way the federal government is,” Davis said.  “Big Brother’s everywhere.”

Lake Isabella resident Jack Smith said marijuana lessens the pain he feels from fracturing a disk in his back while weightlifting.  Smith, 22, said he’s sure many people abuse state law and get doctor’s recommendations for ailments they don’t have, but dispensaries should be kept open for people like him who really benefit from the drug.

“It’s helped me significantly,” he said.

Employees and customers at California Compassionate Services, the dispensary remaining open, refused to comment.  An employee told a reporter to leave, saying he was concerned about customer privacy.

Kenneth Eugene Johnson, who lives across the street from the dispensary in the 300 block of Bernard Street, said many people buying marijuana from the shop look perfectly fine.  He said about one out of every 200 customers appears to have a serious medical condition.

“They’re just doing it for the money,” he said of the dispensary’s owners.

Whether it’s for the money or out of compassion for the suffering, dispensary owners are taking a huge risk by remaining open.  Nature’s Medicinal Cooperative owners David Chavez Sr.  and David Chavez Jr., along with three employees, are each facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for selling marijuana.

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