Ex-narcotics chief leads undercover marijuana busts in Haight
Some residents applaud crackdown as pot advocates criticize heavy-handed tactics
San Francisco police Capt. Greg Corrales strolled down a dirt path in Golden Gate Park looking for someone to arrest.
Corrales, 64, had left his uniform at the police station, a few blocks from Haight Street. Today, he wore a pair of black jeans, a Giants cap and a jersey that read, “Grumpy.”
He headed for Alvord Lake, a manmade pond near Hippie Hill, and spotted a group of ragged young men. As he drew close, one looked at him and brought a closed finger and thumb to his puckered lips.
Corrales knew the sign: weed for sale.
The undercover captain said he wanted $20 worth of marijuana, pocketed his purchase and disappeared into the park. Moments later, a team of officers swooped in to arrest the unsuspecting seller.
The police operation was one of 50 undercover busts Corrales has led since transferring to the Haight-Ashbury district in June to lead a crackdown on street-level marijuana dealing.
To many residents, the arrests are a welcome relief in a neighborhood struggling with aggressive vagrants and dealers. In the district that was the birthplace of the hippie revolution, police are jailing suspects for amounts of marijuana that, in a possession case, would amount to a $100 ticket.
But to marijuana legalization activists and residents who fondly recall the Haight of the 1960s, the campaign represents a return to a time of zero tolerance for peace, love and weed. San Francisco once led the country in its tolerance and celebration of marijuana. Now, marijuana legalization activists say, it is moving backward.
“The people of San Francisco have voted repeatedly they don’t want marijuana laws enforced,” said Dennis Peron, a longtime medical marijuana activist who moved to San Francisco during the heyday of the hippies. “It’s a waste of time.”
Corrales, a former head of the narcotics division, is employing a tactic most commonly used to combat street sales of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In buy-bust operations, an undercover officer poses as a customer and buys drugs from an individual he or she suspects of dealing.
In the Haight, Corrales conducted the first six himself.
Some of the operations have netted repeat offenders, including several suspects with guns or outstanding warrants. But most of the suspects carried small amounts of marijuana. Some had medical marijuana ID cards.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “They can’t sell.”
Many visitors to the Haight expect to be immersed in the marijuana culture; some sample it themselves. The low-level dealing has contributed to a vibrant tourism industry that memorializes the Haight as the birthplace of the hippie revolution during the “Summer of Love” in 1967. It was a time when the district attracted rock stars like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, filling the otherwise poor and dilapidated district with thousands of young people. They embraced communal living and free love. LSD and marijuana were staples.
After the counterculture waned, the Haight-Ashbury emptied. Stores and homes were boarded up. Dealers and users arrived who were less a paean to the hippie revolution than a testament to the ugly, destructive nature of hard drugs.
Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, moved into the neighborhood with his wife in 1989, in the midst of a crack epidemic. At the time, he said, the violent drug trade was flourishing.
“I got to see the everyday reality of what the drug culture did to people,” he said.
In an effort to wrest control of the neighborhood, Loewenberg and about 30 others formed a group called RAD – Residents Against Druggies. A few nights a week, the members armed themselves with two-way radios and notebooks and walked the streets, looking for buyers and dealers.
“If we saw someone we suspected of buying, we would circle around them and just make them so uncomfortable they didn’t want to buy,” recalled Susan Strolis, a waitress who moved to the neighborhood in 1985.
“If we saw a deal going on, we would all post up with our backs against the walls and write down our observations. If we felt unsafe, we radioed someone who was at home by the phone,” she said. “That was our way of sending a message instead of being confrontational.”
As the Haight residents railed against drugs, the city began an effort to decriminalize marijuana. In 1991, San Francisco voters passed Proposition P, urging the state to legalize medical marijuana. In 1992, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging police and the district attorney to deprioritize the crime of possessing or growing marijuana for medical use. That same year, Peron, the medical marijuana rights activist, opened the country’s first dispensary, the Cannabis Buyers’ Club.
Corrales, a former Marine, had made a name for himself as a young undercover officer in the 1970s. His specialty was buy-bust operations targeting heroin dealers in the city’s housing projects.
Newspaper articles at the time chronicled his exploits. During one notorious bust, he crashed through the window of a suspected dealer’s apartment in a Superman T-shirt. On another occasion, he fired his gun into the air after leaving a bar near police headquarters. Later, he smashed up his patrol car while making an illegal U-turn on the Golden Gate Bridge. He racked up hundreds of citizen complaints.
But by 1994, he was a captain and led the narcotics division. (Under his command was Greg Suhr, then a sergeant and now chief of police.) Corrales said he couldn’t ignore Peron.
“He got so brazen, he went on the television show ‘Hard Copy.’ They had a segment with him showing the reporters around,” Corrales recalled. “He was a marijuana dealer.”
Peron was leading the statewide campaign for Proposition 215, a measure to legalize medical marijuana. Corrales and his undercover investigators came up with evidence that Peron was selling marijuana to customers who were not ill. But when the police department brought its case to then-District Attorney Terence Hallinan, he refused to prosecute.
By then, Hallinan had visited Peron’s medical marijuana club. “I thought it was great,” he recalled. “There were people there with AIDS. Everyone had company and friends. It didn’t make sense to me to go raiding that. So they went around me.”
Corrales took his case to then-Attorney General Dan Lungren, an aspiring Republican gubernatorial candidate and Prop. 215 opponent. In summer 1996, with voters considering the measure, Lungren led a raid on Peron’s dispensary.
The raid, however, created sympathy for medical marijuana users. Californians voted in favor of Peron’s initiative, and San Francisco politicians demanded that Police Chief Fred Lau discipline the person responsible for the unpopular investigation. The chief promptly banished Corrales from narcotics.
In the Haight, many merchants and residents now clamor for Corrales’ aggressive strategies.
Loewenberg, the improvement association president, said the neighborhood’s increasing opposition to marijuana dealers reflects just how much the Haight – and San Francisco – have changed.
Tourism and higher income levels have attracted new homeowners, high-priced boutiques, chain stores and a Whole Foods Market. Residents complain about hostile dogs, excrement and trash on their front steps, and panhandlers so aggressive that parents hesitate to walk their children to the park.
To reduce panhandling, the neighborhood led a successful campaign in 2010 to outlaw sitting and lying on city sidewalks. After residents testified en masse at a police commission meeting earlier this year, an impatient Chief Suhr ordered a buy-bust team into the district. Then he replaced the district’s captain with Corrales.
Since landing in the Haight, Corrales has put his narcotics training to good use. Although the number of buy-bust operations this year has decreased citywide, the number in the Haight has tripled.
One of the first to be swept up in the crackdown was 25-year-old Michael Fulmore, a self-described stoner with a medical marijuana identification card that permits him to possess weed.
On the day of his arrest in March, Fulmore recalled wearing a gray V-neck sweater over a button-down shirt. He was living with his aunt in the Haight and contemplating joining the Army. But without a job, he felt drawn to the vagrants in Golden Gate Park. With weed in hand, Fulmore found it easy to make friends and avoid his messy life.
That Saturday evening, Fulmore was about to step off the curb in front of Ben & Jerry’s at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets when a petite young woman in a ponytail and sweatshirt walked up to him.
“Do you know where I can find some weed?” she asked, according to the arrest report.
“Right here,” he said.
According to the arrest report, Fulmore led the woman a few steps up Ashbury and took a cigarette pack out of his front pocket. He picked out some loose leaves and put them in her hand. She quickly gave him a $20 bill and walked away. Moments later, Fulmore was surrounded by police.
In California, possessing an ounce (28.3 grams) or less of marijuana is punishable by a $100 fine. Anyone who gives away an ounce or less of marijuana can be charged with a misdemeanor. Fulmore had handed the officer barely a gram; they had never discussed how much she wanted or how much she would pay him. But Fulmore had accepted the $20 bill.
He was arrested and spent six days in jail. He now faces felony charges of selling marijuana and possession with intent to sell.
“I was just being a nice guy, trying to help her out,” Fulmore said during an interview at his public defender’s office. “I put it in her hand and then when I looked up, there was money there. So I took it. I could see if it was crack cocaine or something harsh like meth. But this is pot – a gram of weed. It’s, like, a ticket, not a felony.”
Corrales has no qualms about the buy-bust operations. He said the lack of enforcement had created an environment where dealers felt comfortable approaching anybody. Now, he said, the dealers are less aggressive.
“When I first went out there, they were careless,” he said. “I probably could have bought marijuana in a suit and tie because there had been no enforcement, so nobody was paranoid. Now they’re more careful.”
In particular, Corrales said he has seen fewer dealers near Alvord Lake.
He was still wearing his “Grumpy” shirt on that day in June when he returned to the lake 45 minutes after his first buy-bust. He approached the same group of young men and asked, “Got anything?”
“Not for you, we don’t,” one replied. The captain heard him mutter “pig” under his breath.
Corrales feigned outrage.
“I’m 75 damn years old,” he yelled, adding more than a decade to his age. “How the hell am I going to be a cop?”
“Calm down,” the young man sputtered. “We gotta be careful. Our buddy just got busted. How much do you want?”
Corrales walked away with another $20 worth of marijuana. And his officers made their second buy-bust arrest of the day.
Oakland sues U.S. to stop medical marijuana property seizuresL.A. Now
The city of Oakland filed suit Wednesday against top federal prosecutors in an attempt to stop them from seizing property leased by the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.
The unprecedented civil complaint, filed in federal court against Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, seeks to “restrain and declare unlawful” a July federal forfeiture action against Harborside Health Center’s landlords in Oakland and San Jose.
The suit comes as federal prosecutors have ramped up efforts to shutter dispensaries statewide, targeting those close to schools as well as operations such as Harborside, which are in compliance with local and state laws but that prosecutors have deemed "superstores."
Launched in 2006, Harborside now counts 108,000 patients in its collective and paid $3.5 million in taxes last year, $1.1 million of that to Oakland. Co-founder Steve DeAngelo worked closely with Oakland officials as they crafted one of the nation's strictest regulatory schemes to monitor and tax the industry.
The lawsuit refers to Harborside as "vital to the safe and affordable distribution of medical cannabis to patients" suffering from pain, illness and injury.
San Francisco attorney Cedric Chao, who is representing Oakland, said in a statement Wednesday that the federal government "acted beyond its authority" by filing the forfeiture action outside the statute of limitations. He added that the government has indicated for many years "by its words and actions that so long as dispensaries and medical patients acted consistently with state law, the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. Oakland has reasonably relied on these assurances."
In an interview, Oakland City Atty. Barbara J. Parker said the lawsuit "is about protecting the rights of legitimate patients who need this medicine” and “doing everything we can to assure that this pipeline is not shut off."
If federal prosecutors succeed in shuttering Harborside, she said, “public safety could be worsened because those patients would be out in the black market purchasing this medicine from criminals.”
A representative for the U.S. attorney’s office did not return a late afternoon call for comment Wednesday.
Advocates for medical marijuana said they know of no other instance in which a city has sued federal prosecutors in an attempt to protect a dispensary.
"I would definitely welcome them to the fight," said Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access. “The symbolism of this is very important.”
Harborside's Oakland dispensary is the largest in the nation, and the center also operates a smaller sister dispensary in San Jose. Landlords facing the forfeiture action have moved in state court to evict, while Harborside has countered that it is meeting all lease requirements. Court rulings are expected soon.
Meanwhile, a federal court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1 on a motion by the San Jose property owner "to enjoin us from selling cannabis," Harborside's DeAngelo said. He called Oakland’s lawsuit "the first time that any official governmental body has formally challenged the federal government’s attacks on medical cannabis laws."
"I think the city realizes that Melinda Haag is not only attacking Harborside but attacking the entire system of regulated medical cannabis sales that the city painstakingly developed," he said.
Ads running to legalize marijuana in three states
By Carl Marcucci
In November, voters in Colorado, Washington and Oregon will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Although similar initiatives have failed in the past, this time the groups fighting to legalize pot are well-organized, professional and backed by high-dollar donors willing to outspend the competition, reports Raycom News Network.
In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) has produced several ads that say marijuana is healthier than alcohol. The campaign’s website points to medical studies that claim marijuana, unlike alcohol, has not been linked to cancer, brain damage, addiction or high healthcare costs.
CRMLA was given nearly $1.2 million from the Marijuana Policy Project, a DC-based lobbying group, as well as more than $800,000 by Peter Lewis, the founder and chairman of Progressive Insurance. Lewis has been a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization for several years and donated millions to legalization efforts around the country.
In an online video ad campaign, CRMLA has young adults explaining to their parents they prefer marijuana to alcohol. In one of the ads, titled Dear Mom, a 20-something woman tells her mother marijuana is “better for my body, I don’t get hung-over and honestly I feel safer around marijuana users.”
In Washington, rather than comparing marijuana to alcohol, New Approach Washington (NAW) is focusing on legalization, arguing outlawing cannabis does more harm than good, by wasting tax dollars on law enforcement while letting gangs control the money. She describes the possible benefits of legalization through saved law enforcement dollars and extra tax revenue.
The TV spot has a professional/executive looking woman, “I don’t like it personally, but it’s time for a conversation about legalizing marijuana. It’s a multi-million dollar industry in Washington state, and we get no benefit.”
These efforts appear to be working. In Washington, 50% of voters say marijuana should be legal while 38% say it should not, according to an Elway Research poll. And in Colorado, a Denver Post poll showed 51% of Coloradans were in favor of legalization, while 41% opposed it.
In Washington, the effort to legalize marijuana is being fought with a bankroll of between $4 and $5 million, according to the Raycom News Network story. NAW used those funds to put $1 million into television advertising during August, and hope to put triple that amount into the weeks preceding the November vote.
In total, groups in Colorado fighting to get marijuana legalized have a war chest of $2.5 million.
The campaigns are especially targeting women ages 30 to 55, whom tend to be less supportive of legalization and regulation than men.
The only visible group opposing the marijuana ballot, SMART Colorado, has been given less than $200,000 – most of it from Save Our Society, a Florida-based anti-drug group.
RBR-TVBR observation: Interesting that the Chairman of Progressive Insurance is donating so much money in this legalization effort. Perhaps legalizing it would create fewer accidents/injuries from police chases and save the insurance industry money? We doubt drivers with the stuff in their car would try to flee if it’s no more illegal than a pack of cigarettes. Who knows, but Progressive is a big corporation and Lewis seems to not be concerned about sticking his neck out on this.
Medical Marijuana Laws Go Up in Smoke
By CAMERON LANGFORD courthousenews.com
Sixteen years after California voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing medical use of marijuana, it's clear the plant is not going to disappear.
Now if only the federal government could figure that out.
The message will be exhaled across the West Friday, as pot smokers gather to celebrate their national holiday: 4/20, a number whose origins are veiled in time and rumor, if not in smoke.
President Obama does not hear the message.
At a Summit of the Americas conference in Columbia on April 14, the host nation's President Juan Manuel Santos discussed alternatives to the "War on Drugs," and urged consideration of a middle ground short of decriminalization.
In response, Obama said, "I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places." But, he added, "I personally, and my administration's position is that legalization is not the answer,'" according to The New York Times.
Consider some numbers the War on Drugs has generated:
The annual marijuana crop in California is worth $13.8 billion, according to "Ganjanomics," an Aug. 15 story in High Country News.
Mexico's war with drug cartels, backed by $1.6 billion in U.S. money for training, support and equipment, has brought that country 50,000 deaths in 5 years.
If marijuana were legal in the United States, you could grow it in your back yard, bring it to your local farmers' market to trade or sell, and buy it commercial grade at your corner store or at specialty shops.
Law enforcement could use a device, akin to a breathalyzer, to determine if someone was too high to be driving.
Drug cartels would have less incentive to battle over supply routes marijuana would no longer be expensive.
Unfortunately for California, the Obama administration is making the state it the poster child for what flouting federal drug laws will get you.
Under the Controlled Substances Act marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning: "a) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse, b) The drug or substance has no currently accepted medical use in the United States."
But in the rural Northern California counties of the Emerald Triangle, including Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt Counties, marijuana is what powers their economies.
Tired of dealing with hunters and hikers encountering gun-toting pot growers in its forests, Mendocino County started a first-of-its kind permitting program in 2010 that let medical marijuana collectives grow up to 99 plants, to bring pot growers out of the black market.
Participants paid the county $1,500 in application fees, $50 for zip ties for each plant and $300 to $600 per month for monthly garden inspections by sheriff's deputies.
Nearly 100 farmers signed up for the program, which generated $663,230 for the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office from July through December, according to county officials.
That all changed in October, when DEA agents raided Northstone Organics' owner Matthew Cohen's Mendocino County farm and cut down his 99 marijuana plants.
Cohen ran a medical marijuana delivery service for patients in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and appeared on the PBS documentary show "Frontline" earlier in the season, touting his garden's compliance with county law.
Due to threats from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag that Mendocino County could face litigation if the program continued, the board of supervisors voted in February to end it.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman was an advocate of the program.
"This step that the U.S. Attorney's Office took in California, in my humble opinion as an elected sheriff, was a step backwards," Allman told KQED News. "We're further away from a solution today than we were two months ago."
On April 3 federal agents raided Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana training college in Oakland, founded by Richard Lee, who spent more than $1 million backing a defeated 2010 California ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana use.
An IRS spokeswoman told reporters that agents were serving a federal search warrant but said she could not comment on the raid's purpose.
Given the federal government's position, and the U.S. Supreme Court 2005 ruling in Gonzalez v. Raich, that Congress can criminalize homegrown cannabis production and use even where states approve it for medical purposes, this is a battle that will play out over decades.
What will it take for our nation's leaders to even start discussing solutions to a problem that will only keep growing?
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RAND Retracts Marijuana Study
How many tax dollars were needed to find out this didn't work? -UA
Public safety advocates widely criticized the report and questioned the study's data, prompting the Santa Monica-based think tank to review its study.
The review found the study did not include crime data reported by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to RAND, which plans to conduct a new analysis that could take months to complete.
The study's authors were unaware that data from third-party crime mapping service CrimeReports.com did not include LAPD data, RAND Vice President of Infrastructure, Safety and Environment Debra Knopman said.
"The whole idea of the study was to try to get insight as to whether or not there was an effect on crime, whatever direction, as a consequence of the city's closure order of some dispensaries. Having an incomplete data set renders that kind of analysis invalid," Knopman said.
She called the retraction a "rare failure" of the company's peer review system.
"We take our commitment to quality and objectivity seriously, so we have retracted the study in order to correct it," Knopman said.
Going forward, RAND will be obtaining crime data directly from police departments, instead of CrimeReports.com, Knopman said, adding, "I don't want to suggest in any way that they misrepresented the data or that they have any responsibility."