Police refuse to help unlucky medical marijuana grower who has lost the pot... again

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The Independent US

Jason Beck is one of San Francisco's best known providers of medical marijuana. And that, in turn, is proving downright dangerous.

A few days ago, two intruders kicked down the door of his house, put a gun to his head and fleeced the place of several thousand dollars' worth of weed along with other valuables.

Mr Beck had previously decided not to keep his marijuana supply at his shop, Alternative Herbal Health Services, in part because of a armed robbery there last December, in which he was pistol-whipped five times and both he and his customers had their money stolen.

He would ask the police to give him better protection, but the police has a problem too. While the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes is both tolerated and fully legal under California state law, the federal government views it as a crime.

If the city police is seen to be supporting trade in illegal stimulants, it risks losing its federal funding supply. Likewise, if Mr Beck tries to reduce his reliance on cash and accepts cheques or credit cards for his services, he risks being prosecuted under federal racketeering and money-laundering laws "We're at war with the feds and with the people trying to rob us," he said.

Mr Beck, who is 26, has a very personal stake in medical marijuana. He suffers from cerebral palsy, which in turn exposes him to the risk of seizure. Since he was a teenager, marijuana has been the constant drug he has taken to keep the symptoms at bay. On one occasion, when a heavy cold stopped from smoking, he suffered a grand mal seizure in his sleep and wound up on life-support in hospital.

Both California and the city of San Francisco have been supportive of marijuana use for medical purposes for years. It was legalised in the state in a 1996 referendum, leading a national movement towards similar legislation in several other states.

The Bush administration, however, has been particularly assiduous in opposing the practice, launching a number of police raids against pot farms and shops like Mr Beck's. A landmark federal appeals court ruling last December effectively put the brakes on the raids by saying California had the right to regulate the movement of drugs within its own borders, but the issue continues to be contested higher up the legal system.

Mr Beck said he hoped the attacks he had suffered would prompt a change in the law ending the official harassment and making it easier to guard against the criminal onslaught. "Sometimes, in order for changes to be made, bad things have to happen," he said. For his part, he has installed security cameras, buzzers and steel doors at his shop in the Lower Haight, an old hippie neighbourhood. He also plans to move house and find a safe, secret location for his marijuana stash.

The head of San Francisco's city agency regulating medical cannabis, Wayne Justmann, likened purveyors like Mr Beck to diamond traders who become obvious criminal targets because of the value of the wares they carry with them. "This can happen to any of us who are affiliated with a facility that provides access to safe cannabis," he said. "Our profile is such that people know who we are, and therefore we are vulnerable at our place or work and also in our homes."

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