Under Arrest

A recent raid on a caregiver collective should concern all proponents of MMJ

In an apparent attempt to enforce federal law, officers from Southern Arizona's multi-agency Counter Narcotics Alliance recently closed out a two-month-long investigation into the Green Halo Caregiver Collective—and then proceeded to get all up in the collective's shit in a rude and offensive way.

They stormed the collective, near Interstate 10 and Prince Road, on July 10, tearing apart a costly grow room, smashing lights and ventilation equipment, cutting down plants, intimidating the staff and generally fucking the place up in all kinds of ways. They took "evidence," including stacks of blank patient forms (but no patient records), the security cameras (but not the video), and the big-screen television from the waiting room, which was used for medical-cannabis education.

"That's not evidence of anything other than that (the collective) exists," said Ken Sobel, who operates the nonprofit GHCC. (See "Acceptable Green," March 8.)

The officers took dozens of plants legitimately cultivated by caregivers in a place preliminarily approved by the city as a dispensary location. (However, the GHCC's owners do not claim it to be a dispensary.) The officers say they took 74 plants, but they miscounted, according to Sobel. It was 65—far fewer than the number allowed under caregiver rules for a shared grow location.

The Tucson Police Department, which is handling the media because the bust was in its jurisdiction, didn't have a lot to say about it. The news release was sparse (though it did inadvertently give props to the GHCC for its "high grade" meds). Simply put, the investigation revealed that the collective was outside the law, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a TPD spokeswoman.

"They were selling marijuana, essentially," she said.

Essentially? It seems they either were, or they weren't. Correct me if I am wrong, but you can't really arrest someone in this country for essentially doing something. I think even Tucson police know this, because no one was charged with selling marijuana. They were charged with having it and with intent to sell it.

I predict this case will be difficult for prosecutors to prove. Sobel has been meticulous about staying within state law at the collective, which does nothing more than bring together patients (like me) with caregivers and other patients (them), so we can get the meds the governor tried to keep from us. The bust was completely unnecessary and unwarranted, Sobel said.

"They could have called me if they had any concerns. There was never any attempt to conceal what we were doing," he said.

A few months ago, in a similar raid, the doors of the Tucson AZ Collective were slammed shut in patients' faces. (See "Convenient Meds," Feb. 16.) The operator of that collective didn't return a couple of messages seeking comment. I'm sure his story is much the same.

But one of the first brick-and-mortar MMJ spots in the city has thus far escaped the Long Arm. Tumbleweeds Health Center might be a little safer than more-traditional collectives, because its service differs fundamentally: Tumbleweeds charges for classes or private consultations, and then gives away medication rather than taking donations to compensate for costs. (See "Open for Business," Jan. 19.)

In any event, it's sad that law-enforcement teams feel a need to shut down places that are filling a huge gap between patents and meds. Until the dispensaries open, these collectives are the only easy way for us nongrowers to get MMJ. It's also sad that the SWAT team picked on the lowest folks on the totem pole. They arrested four employees, whom Hawke and Sobel declined to identify. These folks were just trying to help patients get meds, period.

"These are innocent employees," Sobel said. "They were just doing the best they could for the patients."

Hear, hear.