Long Arm of the Law

Police raids of medical-marijuana clubs are a deterrent—to both providers and patients

When the long arm of the law—clad in Phoenix Police black with a glove gripping an assault rifle—reached into the 2811 Club on Wednesday, Oct. 12, to "collect evidence," it did little to dissuade the cannabis club's operators.

They are going ahead full-steam with plans for 16 more clubs around the state, including in Tucson.

"We've been in contact with our partners, and all of them have decided to move forward," said Allan Sobol, the marketing manager and idea man behind the clubs where patients exchange marijuana after paying membership fees.

Sobol is galled about the attack, calling it harassment and government abuse in the wake of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge's order that the clubs remain open pending a decision about their legality. During the raid, police emphatically told everyone they weren't there to arrest anyone (they didn't), and they were just there to collect evidence (they did).

They took computers, projectors, books and a small amount of marijuana, leaving behind a battered shell of a club that reopened the next day—and remains open. It's a small victory that the police technically obeyed the judge's order and didn't shut the club down.

But they threatened to, Sobol says. "They specifically said, 'We're going to shut you down one way or another,'" he said.

Sobol also claims the cops at the raid referred questions to the Attorney General's Office.

State Attorney General Tom Horne issued a news release the day after the raid to say he had no involvement and has no influence with Phoenix Police.

"I have remained consistent in my position, waiting for a judge to rule on the legality of the clubs," General Horne said.

But fear not! Sobol expects a 2811 Club to be open for business in the Old Pueblo by Christmas, despite the fact that one potential landlord bowed out.

Though the raid didn't deter Sobol, the threat of boots-clad, weapons-bearing tough guys bursting into your place of business to shut you down (and maybe throw you down) does give some folks pause.

Arizona Patient 2 Patient, a nonprofit cannabis collective that has three clubs in the Valley, had planned several new pot spots in Tucson and Prescott. That's not happenin' anytime soon, in part due to the legal confusion, said the chief financial officer of the group's sponsoring Arizona Cannabis Society, who asked to be called Damon Arizona.

"We're basically all geared up. We don't want to thumb our nose at anyone," he said.

He points out that the Patent 2 Patient clubs are nonprofit, while the 2811 clubs are for-profit, which might be a reason the SWAT team came calling, so to speak.

"Everybody wants to help people. It's just that some people have found a way to do that and make money," he said.

It might be nice to let people make some green off the green, he suggests. Isn't money where jobs come from? Jobs are certainly coming forth from the medical-marijuana mayhem—I got one. Maybe we shouldn't stop that. Just sayin'.

Sobol, who founded the Arizona Cannabis University to teach patients about all things pot, invited the police, state attorney general, U.S. attorney, county attorney and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to tour the 2811 Club before it opened. Interestingly, only the Phoenix Police took up his offer.

"They didn't have any problem with it then," Sobol said.

He has been at the forefront of the medical-marijuana fight in Arizona. He is a party to two lawsuits over the issue. In July, he asked the Superior Court to rule that his clubs don't violate the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. In August, the state asked the court to rule that the clubs do violate the act.

Ultimately, as Damon Arizona and Sobol agree, the conflict sparked by raids really only accomplishes one thing: Patients are hurt. It denies them a safe, consistent place to get medication. It denies them the rights the voters endowed.

It denies them access to the care their doctors prescribed.

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