Thursday, 18 July 2024

Advocacy group says DEA medical marijuana arrests may be firsts under Obama

UPPER LAKE – An advocacy group said Monday that several arrests by the Drug Enforcement Administration that followed a federal raid in Upper Lake last week are believed to be the first involving medical marijuana since President Barack Obama took office.

Tom Carter and Brett Bassignani were arrested Aug. 18 on charges of conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, as Lake County News has reported.

An informant had allegedly made a purchase deal with Bassignani and referenced Carter in the transaction, but last week Carter's federal defense attorneys filed a document in which they challenged the charge, saying they were weak and should be dismissed.

Court document reveal there were additional arrests as well – those of Carter's neighbors, Scott Feil and Diana Feil, and Diana Feil's stepfather, Steven Swanson. The charges against the Feils and Swanson, however, are not elaborated in the documents that Lake County News was able to obtain Monday.

A US Attorney's Office spokesman could not be reached for comment on the case Monday.

Scott Feil was the former manager of the United Medical Caregivers Clinic medical cannabis dispensary in Los Angeles, and has been fighting a federal forfeiture case for several years, according to Dale Gieringer, PhD, coordinator for California NORML, a group dedicated to reforming marijuana laws.

Gieringer said the Upper Lake situation is significant because, although there have been about three or four other DEA raids involving that are alleged to be medical marijuana collectives, this is the first time arrests were made and federal charges filed since President Obama came into office in January.

Earlier this year, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer prosecute marijuana offenses that are legal under state medical marijuana laws. Since then, the DEA has raided two or three dispensaries in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but without making any arrests, according to California NORML.

Gieringer said the 154 plants seized from Carter's property – which Carter's wife, Jamie Ceridono, said were covered by medical recommendations – is a small number and is in keeping with what would be found at a medical marijuana collective.

“It sounds like the key to this whole case is this informant who was setting something up,” said Gieringer.

California NORML, which has kept track of all federal marijuana arrests since they started, denounced the federal government for continuing to interfere in California's medical marijuana laws in the wake of the Upper Lake arrests.

The group reported that more than 100 medical marijuana defendants have been charged under federal law.

Gieringer called for concrete changes in federal law, and said the Obama administration so far hasn't announced any changes in federal laws or regulations.

Obama appointees haven't yet replaced Bush appointees – who Gieringer called “marijuana-hostile” – in the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Northern California.

The locals arrested last week were transported to the Bay Area. Feil is due for a detention hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in San Francisco. Carter's detention hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Ceridono said she and supporters plan to attend.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at .

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