The current effort to ban or limit cannabis dispensaries is being orchestrated from Drug War headquarters.* This can be inferred from the way the exact same “talking points” show up in the mouths of law enforcers, politicians, and editorial writers.
The head of the San Francisco Police Department’s narcotics squad, Capt. Tim Hetrick, took credit for his public-relations role when he addressed a community meeting March 28: “If you’ve been paying any attention to the papers over the last three weeks,” he said, ” you’ve seen my name in there quite a bit talking about the number of marijuana clubs in the city of San Francisco, to the point where Gavin Newsom has come out and put a moratorium on these clubs in the various neighborhoods.”
Your correspondent could not think of a polite way to ask Hetrick, “Who gave you the green light three weeks ago?” He recited many points of disinformation at the community meeting, and either he’s a terrific actor or he believed every word he spoke.
Hetrick said that doctors’ recommendations were easy to obtain and that many people who had no bona fide medical problems got them for trivial conditions such as hang nails (the very example Attorney General Dan Lungren used nine years ago in the no-on-215 campaign). After decades of saying that marijuana was bad for you, the Drug Warriors are now admitting that it does have medical utility for a very small subset of the population.
“The great lie,” said Hetrick, “is that it’s not just for people who are dying and need to use it. People come in under various ways and get the medical marijuana cards and use it because they want to get high and legalize the drug.”
Hetrick also said that “there’s no such thing as medical marijuana under federal law.” But there is -unless and until the Supreme Court throws out the protection a federal appeals court has given to Diane Monson and Angel Raich.
Additional Hetrick quotes:
“Medical marijuana was started in 1996 by the voters of the state of California, Prop 215, and it set some standards about people who needed marijuana as medicine for such things as HIV, cancer, glaucoma, migraine headaches, chronic pain. It was amended in Senate bill 420 in 2003 that talked about the limits of marijuana that people could possess as a caregiver or as a patient.
“In San Francisco there are 37 marijuana clubs. In the whole state of California there are 125, so we have about 30% of all the marijuana clubs in the state of California. The question is why? Lack of regulation, no standards about what neighborhoods they could go in -industrial neighborhoods, residential neighborhoods, next to schools, far away from schools, on transportation routes, those things were never established. People would come in and open up marijuana clubs. In fact, we have a parolee who did six years in San Quentin for sales of crack cocaine and is on parole out of Alameda County who has a marijuana club right now. (Scattered applause.)
“We in the police department would only investigate a dispensary upon a complaint. We do not go near em, we do not walk into em, we monitor from a distance. We’ve seen the resale of marijuana out in the street. We’ve had numerous cases of people on the internet, or people saying ‘Hey, I’ve got the medical marijuana card, I can buy the marijuana, I’ll sell you half of it.’ Or, ‘You provide the money, I will go get the narcotic.’ Those are the things that we see, that you see in your neighborhood, that we get the complaints about.
“One of the things that everybody has to understand and realize is that possession of marijuana under federal law is illegal. There’s no such thing as medical marijuana under federal law. There is in a way, because the controlled substances act of 1970 set up a pathway where individuals could apply to DEA through the Dept of Health and Human Services and be shipped marijuana by Health and Human Services. There are like 240 people in the United States who get legal marijuana from the federal government because they went through the process of applying through the controlled substances act of 1970, through DEA.”
“A caregiver must provide more than just marijuana. A caregiver must provide housing, must provide health issues, must provide food, clothing. If you’re going to be a caregiver for 75 people, what housing are you providing for them? What food? What clothing? What caregiver services? It can’t just be marijuana. You have to prove to us that you give more than marijuana. Because if you just give marijuana, what are you? You’re a drug dealer.”
Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access captured the schizophrenia of Hetrick’s performance: “Coming from Texas, I’m still amazed to hear cops saying that there is such a thing as medical marijuana. That’s real progress. And yet he got so much wrong!”
The meeting had been called by Southern Station Capt. Dennis O’Leary to discuss “neighborhood concerns” about Mendo Healing, a dispensary on Lafayette, a small residential street that runs off Howard between 11th and 12th. Mendo Healing is known to provide the highest-quality cannabis at the lowest prices in town -and a few free grams to those in need. As a result, Mendo’s small storefront can’t hold all their clients, and lines commonly extend onto the sidewalk.
Some Lafayette St. residents have complained to the police about people coming out of the club and loitering in front of their houses, smoking, being rude, offering cannabis for sale, taking up parking spots, double-parking, etc. Owner David Moore has been working with a realtor to find a more suitable location.
More than 50 people attended the 3/28 meeting at a facility called The Arc that serves the disabled. Representatives from Supervisor Daly’s office, the Planning Department, the D.A. and the City Attorney all said they were on the case. Most citizens who voiced complaints made a point of saying that they wanted medical marijuana to be available in San Francisco, and several wished Moore well at a different site.
There was a moment of comic relief. The owner Royal Motors said, “My issue is traffic control. I’ve got a business across the street, we’ve been since 1947, we employ 151 people. Our customers can’t pull in to the service department because cars are either double-parked or parked in the driveway. Many times we ask them to move and there are pretty rough-looking characters in the cars who refuse to move.” Captain O’Leary solemnly promised, “I will increase the amount of patrols on Howard and Lafayette Streets to assure the steady flow of traffic.” But then a young man in a windbreaker said that he lived across the street and had trouble “almost every day” getting into or out of his driveway because Royal Motors employees’ or customers’ cars were blocking his way, and either they couldn’t be found or they took their time moving. The owner of Royal Motors smiled sheepishly -apparently he was aware of the counter-complaint- and left the meeting soon thereafter. There was tragic relief, too, after David Moore and Steve Smith of Hope Net offered to help the police deal with “gang members.”
Hetrick: Are gangs distributing narcotics to these dispensaries? No. But gangs are getting their narcotics from these dispensaries. Because they’re pretty sharp guys, they go get their marijuana card, and now they can roam the streets with half a pound of marijuana, and we can’t do a thing with it.”
Smith: Is there anything the dispensaries can do to help you get this out of their hands?
Hetrick: Dispensaries don’t want any part of it.
Smith We should like limit to certain patients that you feel are abusing?
Hetrick: The dispensaries are in existence to make money. They do not want to have anything to do with the police department.
Smith: I’m not in it to make money. I’m willing to work with you.
Hetrick (or other SFPD): Where’s your dispensary, sir?
Smith: On 9th Street.
Hetrick or other SFPD: Have you phoned the police department about any guys that came in there that you thought were gang members?
Smith and David Moore: We have! We have!
Smith: Sgt Halloran has been in my grow rooms.
Halloran: I inspected your club, and Lafayette. I inspected clubs in the Mission, all over. I have never ever arrested anyone for any violation of anything in any dispensary in this city.
Smith: Our dispensary would like to be the first to work with you if you have any idea of how to eliminate your problems.
Halloran: I’d be happy to talk with you. I’ll come by and we can start that dialog.
Smith: Thank you.
* * *
Steve Smith and David are respected, well-liked dispensary operators -not profiteers, by all accounts- who want to be able to continue providing cannabis to the people they’re serving. It’s a very human response, when you’re under attack, to say “Sic your dogs on somebody else.” But, friends “Gang members” need decent, remunerative jobs, not more prison time.
The war on drugs and the prosecution of “gang members” are the same thing, actually. They are both RATIONALES entitling the police to penetrate the ghettos -where oppression is most intense- and have in their sights at all times the people most likely to explode when conditions become intolerable. Repeat: the war on drugs and the anti-gang crusade are merely RATIONALES for keeping the cops (and certain paramilitary units, and now the military itself) armed to the teeth and ready to pounce if and when the poor start cutting up.
When I worked for the SF District Attorney a few years ago, the prosecutor in charge of “gangs” was a tall, skinny WASP named George Butterworth. His wife as a prosecutor, too. On his wall was a poster-sized grid of 80 Polaroid shots of “gang members” in orange jump suits. And every single one of them was a brown-skinned young man! Could the KKK have taken them off the streets more efficiently than George Butterworth?
*Political and paramilitary operations are centered in Washington, of course, but the senior theoreticians are at Columbia University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers Association transmits instructions to law enforcement in Sacramento and at the city and county levels.