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Feds Raid Home, Growing Facility Of Pot Club Pair

San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 21, 2005

by Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Staff Writer

Federal agents raided the home of a San Francisco couple who operate a South of Market medical marijuana club Tuesday, seizing 122 marijuana plants and at least $20,000 in assets, the couple said.

Agents later raided a nearby building where Steve and Catherine Smith grew marijuana for their Hope Net cooperative and club. But they ran into a crowd of protesters when they went to the club itself at 223 Ninth St.

Four Drug Enforcement Administration agents sat in vehicles in front of the club as the crowd, which eventually grew to about 60 people, surrounded them, waving signs and chanting slogans. After five hours, the agents left without raiding the club, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

A DEA spokeswoman would not say why the agents had decided not to go inside. The spokeswoman, Casey McEnry, said the agents had been sent to the club because of information gleaned from the raid of the Smiths' home on Clara Street and from a separate raid in the Sonoma County town of Penngrove.

"I can't confirm whether we will or will not take enforcement at that location in the future," McEnry said, though several medical marijuana activists speculated the government had been unable to obtain a search warrant for the club.

"I've never seen the DEA leave before. Never," said Catherine Smith. She said she felt "guardedly relieved."

No one was arrested in the raids. The Smiths said their club would be closed indefinitely. The couple kept all the club's marijuana at their home and their nearby growing facility.

In addition to marijuana plants, agents confiscated growing equipment, bulbs, utility bills, tax documents, financial records and photographs from the Smiths' home, the couple said. Steve Smith said he suspected the agents had taken some patient records as well.

"They beat on the door. They took me outside in my underwear and cuffed me and then searched the house," he said.

The Hope Net club has been open for about a year and distributes marijuana to about 100 patients for free in addition to its paying clients, Catherine Smith said.

Several medical marijuana proponents said the club had a reputation for distributing only to deserving patients and not causing problems in the neighborhood. "This is a good one," said Wayne Justmann, a longtime activist.

The raid was the first in the city since June, when federal agents seized marijuana and other items from two cannabis clubs on Ocean Avenue in the Ingleside district and a third on Judah Street in the Inner Sunset District. Nineteen people were accused of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Those raids were the first in the Bay Area since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the federal government had the authority to prosecute people whose activities are legal under state law. The growing and use of medical marijuana were legalized by state voters in 1996, but are still prohibited under federal law.

San Francisco will put in place regulations for the city's 34 medical marijuana clubs starting Dec. 30. The new rules give the Planning Department the right to hold public hearings on the location of all clubs. Patients will be allowed to buy a maximum of one ounce of marijuana per visit to a club.

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