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S.F. Club Briefly Reopens--Without Marijuana

Drugs: Center that openly sold pot on medical grounds is shut down by judge's order a day after raid.

August 06, 1996|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A club that openly sold marijuana to people with AIDS, cancer and other diseases briefly reopened its doors Monday, a day after state drug agents cleaned out its cupboards.

"We don't have any marijuana, but we have each other," said volunteer Gilbert Baker as a dozen people lined up outside. "We have love and compassion. That's what the club's been about from the start."

But by late afternoon, at the state's request, a judge ordered the club closed, and members were scrambling to decide their next move, said Lee Sisneros, who works at the front desk.

"We're closed, we're closed," volunteer Tony Derenzo told people who wandered by.

The Cannabis Buyers' Club has sold marijuana to the seriously ill since it was founded in 1991. Boasting 11,000 members, the club operates from a storefront on busy Market Street.

Club leaders made no secret of the fact that they sold the illegal drug, and city police, under orders from elected officials, did not disturb the operation.

But on Sunday, state agents burst into the club, seizing more than 40 pounds of pot, documents and an unspecified amount of cash.

The raid came after a two-year investigation during which undercover agents allegedly saw minors buying marijuana and people selling the drug to "patients" with "doctor's notes" scribbled on napkins or scrap paper.

State Justice Department spokesman Steve Telliano said the club helped distribute large quantities of marijuana throughout the Bay Area.

"This clearly was not a not-for-profit operation," he said. "We're still counting" the money.

State attorneys will move to shut down the club permanently, Telliano said.

No immediate arrests were made, although Telliano said some are possible after agents examine the evidence seized.

Club founder Dennis Peron, who was out of town during the raid, insisted that the club has rigid restrictions on who may be sold marijuana and said he has thousands of doctors' notes as proof. Some marijuana users say the drug can stimulate appetite and relieve the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Several club supporters said they believed the raid was politically motivated.

Proposition 215, a statewide initiative to legalize the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, is on the November ballot, and the second floor of the Buyers' Club serves as local campaign headquarters. Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren opposes the measure.

"From my perspective, it's calculated to inflame those who can be inflamed so that the medicinal marijuana initiative fails," said Tony Serra, Peron's lawyer.

Bill Zimmerman, campaign manager for the Yes on 215 campaign, said: "This is a nakedly political action on the part of Lungren. I can't remember a time when an elected official used police powers to interfere in an ongoing political campaign."

Signs posted on the club's headquarters Monday read: "Fight Back--Hands Off Our Medicine" and "Dan Lungren--What About AIDS?"

"They could put all of us in jail, and the other club members would open a new club by themselves," said volunteer Jeff Bullard.

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