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 Medical marijuana activist sues city over raid


Medical marijuana activist Steven McWilliams, whose six-month federal prison
 sentence was delayed pending appeal, has sued the city of San Diego and its Police
 Department, alleging that local authorities should not have helped federal drug
 agents uproot his pot garden last year.


                  Return To OnlinePot’s Legal Section Main Page


By Jeff McDonald
June 4, 2003

Medical marijuana activist Steven McWilliams, whose six-month federal prison sentence was delayed pending appeal, has sued the city of San Diego and its Police Department, alleging that local authorities should not have helped federal drug agents uproot his pot garden last year.

In the case, filed Friday in San Diego County Superior Court, McWilliams and his partner, Barbara MacKenzie, complain that their rights were violated because what they were doing was legal under state law.

"They’re not federal agents," McWilliams said of the police. "They’re state agents, and under state law what we did was lawful."

The lawsuit draws further attention to a glaring discrepancy between state and federal laws. California voters in 1996 adopted a proposition that allows chronic patients to smoke and grow marijuana, but the drug remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under federal law.

McWilliams has been a high-profile medical marijuana activist for years, distributing the drug to patients across San Diego County and providing information about how to grow marijuana legally under state law.
Federal agents oversaw a multiagency task force that raided McWilliams’ Normal Heights home Sept. 24, seizing about 25 marijuana plants and other materials they suspected might be involved in what they said was an unlawful cultivation.
The agents made no arrests that day, but McWilliams was taken into custody several weeks later on felony charges of illegally growing marijuana.
MacKenzie, who maintains that half of the plants were hers, was not charged. McWilliams pleaded guilty to a single felony charge in February and on April 28 was sentenced to six months in federal custody.

The case is being appealed to a federal appellate court, and neither McWilliams nor MacKenzie is allowed to smoke marijuana while the case remains unresolved.
A hearing on that issue is scheduled next week in U.S. District Court. McWilliams and MacKenzie, who both suffer from a variety of ailments, say their health has deteriorated since they were ordered not to smoke marijuana.

A spokeswoman for City Attorney Casey Gwinn said the office had not been served a copy of the complaint and would have no comment on the case.
San Diego police Lt. Cesar Solis, who oversees narcotics and participated in the medical marijuana task force debate, declined to comment specifically on the case.
But Solis said the raid was conducted by a regional narcotics task force – not San Diego police. He also said his organization routinely offers help to other government agencies.

"We always assist other law enforcement agencies when we can," Solis said.
Local police in some other California cities where medical marijuana clubs have been raided by federal authorities have refused to assist in investigations or the execution of search warrants.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, although a claim filed earlier with the city sought $50 million each for McWilliams and MacKenzie. Saying they cannot afford an attorney, the couple filed the lawsuit themselves.
According to the suit, San Diego police provided aerial surveillance and other assistance to federal drug agents investigating McWilliams. They gave help, even though they knew McWilliams was complying with Proposition 215, the state law permitting patients to use and grow marijuana, McWilliams said.
Police officials also ignored the work of the city’s Medical Marijuana Task Force, a committee that spent two years developing guidelines on how the city should implement the state law, he added.

"We’re patients. We’re known to be patients. We were working on the city task force," McWilliams said. "What the police did is bad faith. They were basically acting like double agents."

Since his arrest and subsequent plea, McWilliams said he has lost his business, many of his friends and the ability to help other medical marijuana patients find the drug or a doctor to recommend it.

In an unrelated case, Northern California marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court today on charges of illegal cultivation. He faces 5 to 85 years in prison.

Jurors in that case complained publicly after the verdict that they were not told Rosenthal was growing marijuana for sick people on behalf of the city of Oakland.