Federal drug enforcement agents on Thursday raided a Murrieta marijuana collective for the second time in a month -– two days after it filed a $3 million suit against the city.
Agents wearing blue jeans, T-shirts and with handguns in their holsters surveyed the vehicles approaching Greenhouse Cannabis Club, located in a largely vacant commercial building on Jefferson Avenue. Inside, handcuffed volunteers wearing dress shirts and ties sat quietly while agents searched for evidence to support their belief that the collective was in violation of federal and local laws prohibiting the distribution of marijuana.
In a lawsuit this week, the cannabis club alleged that Murrieta invaded patient privacy and sought court orders to stop police patrols around the store and to strike down the city’s moratorium on marijuana collectives.
“I’m angry — so angry — that they think it’s right to deny sick people the medication they need,” collective Director Eric McNeil said moments after the agents released two volunteers and a patient who were handcuffed during the 10 a.m. raid.
A judge signed the warrant for the raid on Monday, the day before the collective filed its lawsuit.
Agents at the scene declined to comment. A department spokesman Jose Martinez for could not be reached for comment. Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he had no details about what was seized.
Greenhouse volunteers said agents seized less than an ounce of marijuana, a shipment of THC vaporizing tools, a desktop computer and baked goods that did not contain marijuana. Volunteers said the “fake edibles” were placed after the first raid and intended as a joke in case federal agents returned.
Scene of search
While volunteers were shaken when agents first raided the collective in mid-March, volunteer Kevin Ford, who was present during both raids, said agents were “nice” as they came through the door and ordered him and others to the ground. After agents handcuffed those inside, Ford said he “took the opportunity to educate them,” on medical marijuana issues.
“I told them ‘If you can convince me I’m wrong, I’ll come work for you,’” Ford said. “All I wanted to do was make them question if what they’re doing is right. I believe in what I’m doing.”
Outside, some patients turned away when they saw the agents, who were dressed in T-shirts and jeans. Others, like throat cancer survivor Eric Allbrook, decided to watch the scene from a distance.
Allbrook said he relies on cannabis for relief from after affects of the extensive treatments, including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, that he has undergone in the past three years since his diagnosis. Cannabis, he said in a permanently guttural voice, has taken the place of 15 different prescriptions.
“It helps me eat, helps me sleep,” said Allbrook, who has surgery scars on both sides of his Adam’s apple. “Without it, I’d be dead by now.”
The collective has attracted much attention since opening in early January in defiance of a city-wide moratorium on marijuana-related establishments, particularly after a Riverside County Superior Court Judge declared that Murrieta cannot infringe on constitutional rights of assembly, which apply regardless of the presence of medical marijuana.
After that determination, the city’s legal team wrote, and the same judge signed, an order that says the collective cannot dispense marijuana to “more than two people.”
Since then, McNeil has continued to dispense medical marijuana to hundreds of card-holding patients under an interpretation that he can serve no more than two people at a time. A jury in June is scheduled to decide whether McNeil is in contempt of court for violating the order. A judge also has evicted the collective from its suite, although the club has not yet vacated.
In its lawsuit against the city, McNeil’s attorney, Richard Ackerman, has accused Murrieta Police Department enforcement officers of following patients as they leave the collective, pulling patients over and questioning their use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Those practices were detailed in the first federal search warrant served on the collective in mid-March.