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MURRIETA: Feds raid cannabis club

Federal drug agents and Murrieta police officers raided the city’s only medical marijuana collective Thursday.

“I’m the only one who didn’t have a gun pointed to my head,” Eric McNeil, director of Greenhouse Cannabis Club in Murrieta.

The Drug Enforcement Administration agents and officers seized approximately 3 pounds of marijuana, various edible THC products and roughly 18 immature plants during the 10 a.m. raid at Greenhouse Cannabis Club, volunteers at the collective said Thursday.

Also, agents served a search warrant at the home of Greenhouse Cannabis Club Director Eric McNeil.

Sarah Pullen, a spokeswoman for the DEA, gave a different account of how much marijuana was seized Thursday.

According to Pullen, agents seized 11 pounds of marijuana, 22 pounds of edible marijuana products and 21 plants. Agents also seized three firearms at McNeil’s residence, she said.

Two volunteers who were present during the raid said at least a dozen federal agents and local police officers stormed into the nondescript Jefferson Avenue storefront with their rifles drawn.

The volunteers, who asked that their names not be published for safety concerns, said the agents handcuffed them and three card-holding medical marijuana patients before conducting the search of the cooperative.

McNeil, who was neither at home nor at the cannabis club during the raids, said his wife recounted to him how numerous agents burst through the front door of their home.

“They kicked in my door, but there was nothing there, so there was nothing to hide,” he said.

“In all of this —- with (the volunteers) and my wife and kids —- I’m the only one who didn’t have a gun pointed to my head,” McNeil said outside the Jefferson Avenue collective, which has been open since early January. “It’s another bump in the road, but my intention is to open back up.”

According to the 36-page affidavit filed with the court in support of the search warrants, an undercover federal agent in February was able to purchase a gram of medical marijuana for $20 at the club after presenting a medical marijuana card. Agents also received statements from card-holding patients that they had purchased medical marijuana at the club.

Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad confirmed that members of the special enforcement team assisted the federal agents on the raid, but declined to comment further because it’s a federal investigation.

The bust happened one week before McNeil is due back in Riverside Superior Court on March 22 to be arraigned on a contempt of court charge for allegedly defying a court order that he not dispense medical marijuana to “more than two people.”

After Greenhouse Cannabis Club opened, the city sought an emergency court order to shut it down. After an initial denial, Judge John Vineyard signed a court order in mid-February that prevented the club from dispensing marijuana to “more than two people.”

The order was written like that, City Attorney Bob Mahlowitz said, in order to preserve individuals’ right to use medical marijuana.

McNeil’s attorney, however, has interpreted that to mean that the cannabis club can dispense to any card-holder, provided each client is seen individually.

On the advice of his attorney, McNeil said, he has continued to provide medical marijuana to card-holders —- one at a time.

McNeil said Wednesday that he will keep the collective shuttered until after next week’s hearing to prevent future raids, adding that between 60 and 70 card-holders visit the club daily.

He remains confident, however, that the courts ultimately will side with his attorney, who has argued that Murrieta’s ban on medical marijuana collectives denies Californians their right to use cannabis for medical reasons, under the state voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

McNeil pointed to a recent appellate court decision to further illustrate his confidence about his right to provide access to medical marijuana patients.

In early March, a Santa Ana appellate court overturned a previous ruling that would have shut down a marijuana collective the city of Lake Forest decided was a nuisance by its very nature.

The justices determined that a city cannot declare that all collectives are nuisance businesses and thereby ban them. The justices also declared that collectives must cultivate their own medical marijuana, rather than bringing it in from elsewhere.

In 2005, Murrieta adopted an ordinance that banned marijuana-related businesses and declared them nuisance businesses.

That ordinance, however, has since been revoked. Public safety officials are working to “tighten the language.” The city is now operating under a temporary moratorium that prohibits medical marijuana businesses from opening.

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