On July 2, 2011, in Sacramento, Calif., Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos attended a fundraising dinner to retire his 2010 campaign debt. The host was the medical marijuana lobbying group, California Cannabis Business League. The lobbying group chose Mr. Gallegos because he has been a strong advocate for the rights of medical marijuana patients and the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. I am asking Mr. Gallegos to stop the madness of Humboldt County law enforcement raids on the homes of medical marijuana patients.
Gallegos' candid and public position on medical marijuana is a courageous stand where most of his statewide district attorney colleagues and the Humboldt County law enforcement community feel just about the opposite about medical marijuana. Of course, Gallegos' stand on what he thinks is right despite running into a freight train of ingrained Humboldt County backward politics and the fear of change that infects this county is one of the few bright spots that remain in Humboldt County politics after the November election. Think the firing of the forward-thinking Eureka Police Chief Gar Nielsen by the backward thinking David Tyson.
Getting back to medical marijuana, I do have a criticism of Mr. Gallegos and I hope he considers this writing an open letter to him to right the wrong of Humboldt County law enforcement officers who almost weekly invade the privacy of cancer patients, diabetics, paraplegics and other medical marijuana patients when they bust into their homes in the early morning hours looking for the patients' medicine without any reasonable cause to suspect the medical marijuana is unlawful.
The media has been reporting on marijuana raids throughout the county and in particular by the newly formed Arcata Police Department's Special Services Unit -- or otherwise known as the “SS Unit.” The reporting on these raids inaccurately state that the raids are on homes where, “illegal marijuana cultivation operations were suspected to be taking place.” In most instances, that is not the case. The warrants are served because the Humboldt County law enforcement agencies believe there are marijuana cultivation operations taking place.
The SS Unit and all of the raiding agencies of Humboldt County don't care if it is lawful medical marijuana or not. The police will find that out later after a wee hours bursting into a house with guns drawn rounding up all of the sleeping, half-naked residents in the home -- including children -- at gun point into the living room face down on the floor.
At least twice last month Arcata's SS unit raided two homes, and whoops the marijuana grows were lawful. In one case, officers forced face down on the floor with hands cuffed behind their backs an elderly couple, the officers first had to take the oxygen tubes out of the husband's nose before smashing him into the floor. Arcata Police Chief Chapman, of course, said something like, “sorry folks for the inconvenience, we'll take off your handcuffs and put the tubes back in your nose so you can put on your clothes and you can clean up the mess we made tossing up everything in every corner of your house.”
This paper and all of the rest of the news reporting agencies should ask the police just what facts they had to suspect whether the cultivation was unlawful, as opposed to a lawful medical grow. Most of the time there are no facts to distinguish a lawful grow from an unlawful grow before the battering ram is pressed into service.
Most importantly, Mr. Gallegos should be asking that question before the warrant is even issued. Mr. Gallegos can fix the problem with the stroke of his pen, or should I say, withholding the stroke of his pen. Before a judge signs a search warrant, the judge requires that the DA sign off on the warrant with a statement that the DA believes there is probable cause to issue the warrant. Mr. Gallegos should not sign off on these warrants unless -- and until -- the law enforcement agent answers Mr. Gallegos' simple question: “What facts do you have that suggest the suspected marijuana is an unlawful grow.”
Jeffrey Schwartz is the director of the Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights (HumRights.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Schwartz welcomes Mr. Gallegos and law enforcement to respond.