Weeding out the US' weed traffickers

Authorities described this week’s raids on San Francisco pot clubs as one of the largest drug crackdowns in the area in recent memory, and said the arrests were the first step in uncovering a major international drug operation.

United States Attorney Kevin V Ryan said agents raided three pot clubs that operated as fronts for marijuana and Ecstasy trafficking, and warned that federal drug laws would be strictly enforced, even in cities tolerant of medical marijuana.

“We’re empathetic to the ill and to the sick, however we cannot disregard federal law,” said Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Javier Pena. “We have the power to enforce federal drug laws even in areas where it might not be popular.”

Twenty people were indicted on federal drug charges in court documents unsealed on Thursday, and an arrest warrant has been issued for another. Two others face state drug charges, and more arrests are pending, Ryan said.

Following a two-year investigation dubbed Operation Urban Harvest, officials searched a total of 25 homes and businesses throughout the Bay Area on Wednesday.
They seized about 9 300 pot plants with a street value of more than $5-million, said Ryan. He said the pot clubs were a base of operation for a larger drug trafficking organisation importing and selling large quantities of marijuana and Ecstasy, and engaging in money laundering and cash smuggling.

Despite the city’s recognition of medical pot clubs as legal, San Francisco police officers participated in the investigation, but did not make arrests or enter the marijuana clubs.

While federal officials said at a news conference that the raids would not usher in a broader crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in the city, protesters outside said they sent a frightening message to patients.

“I’m scared,” said Kathleen Prevost, who said she uses marijuana to control her post-traumatic stress disorder. “All I want to do is have access to my medicine.”

Authorities said the Supreme Court decision two weeks ago that medical marijuana is illegal was not the impetus behind Wednesday’s busts. But they warned federal laws will be strictly applied.

“There are some members of the public who think they can disregard the courts and Congress,” said Pena. “The DEA will not be among them.”

Authorities are now reaching out to international law enforcement organisations, Ryan said.

The alleged traffickers laundered millions of dollars using 12 financial institutions and 40 bank accounts, said Kenneth Hines, an agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Services’ criminal investigation.-Sapa-AP

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