Medical marijuana mix-up: San Diego task force raids Riverside c - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Medical marijuana mix-up: San Diego task force raids Riverside county pot farm

San Diego NTF raided this medical marijuana farm in De Luz on Sept. 24 San Diego NTF raided this medical marijuana farm in De Luz on Sept. 24
De Luz, Calif. (CBS 8) -- Medical marijuana has been legal in the state of California for 18 years. So, when a group of men carry guns raided a pot farm in Riverside county owned by a Carlsbad grandmother, she reported it to her county supervisor.

Zack Curcie was the gardener minding the marijuana crop when the raid went down on September 24.

Curcie told CBS News 8 he was just doing his job, tending to a legal medical marijuana grow of less than 100 plants, on a 10-acre parcel in the De Luz area north of Fallbrook.

He said he had posted a sign on the property near the road displaying the medical marijuana prescriptions for 16 patients involved in the coop grow.

The armed men who showed up at the property did not have a search warrant and Curcie, 25, said he wasn't 100% sure who the men represented.

“The first thing they did was point guns at me so I wasn't asking for any paper,” said Curcie.

They handcuffed Curcie and used an unmarked helicopter to seize about 100 marijuana plants, he said. Then, the men let him go free.

“When they came in they dumped my clothes bags, wrecked everything, smashed everything on the ground,” said Curcie.

The property is owned by a Carlsbad grandmother, who rented the land to a medical marijuana collective that hired Curcie – a former Iraq war veteran – to grow the pot.

“We went to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and asked beforehand if this was okay and they said they might not like it, but it's legal,” recalled Curcie.

Riverside county spokesperson, Ray Smith, confirmed that county officials have not been targeting small medical marijuana farms for enforcement action.

“Generally, there has been no county enforcement action on properties with smaller grows unless there were associated, or unrelated, code enforcement violations. County supervisors are working with counsel to draft an ordinance to establish reasonable limits so that smaller grows for medical users can be allowed,” Smith wrote in an email to CBS News 8.

When the landowner found out about the raid, she called Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries.

Supervisor Jeffries initially thought the raid sounded suspicious because there was no search warrant issued and no arrests.

Jeffries speculated at a public board meeting that the raid could have been conducted by a private security firm or even drug cartels.

“Sure enough it's been happening in Northern California,” Jeffries announced. “They're actually using helicopters to steal the crops from other individuals.”

After some digging, CBS News 8 discovered the marijuana raid in Riverside was actually conducted by the San Diego based Narcotics Task Force (NTF).

The NTF is a federal task force that's led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) but includes deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, as well as other local police officers.

La Jolla attorney Nathan Shaman has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff and San Diego Police over a similar NTF raid in Ramona.

“They are enforcing federal law over their own state law and it's certainly troubling that state taxpayer money is paying for that,” Shaman said.

“This isn't that different. These guys rolled in without notice, without a warrant, some of them without any clear identification. They handcuffed the guy and then let him go and then he doesn't hear anything else about it,” Shaman continued. “I can certainly see why someone would think it's a private security firm.”

The DEA told CBS News 8 the task force did not need a search warrant in this case because the marijuana was growing in an open field. The agency also said the officers involved in the raid clearly identified themselves as law enforcement.

A DEA spokesperson declined to be interviewed on camera but issued written statements in a series of emails, which read, in part:

“NTF Team 9 is made up of DEA, San Diego Sheriff's, San Diego PD and Bureau of Land Management… Sheriff's Deputies are paid by the Sheriff's Department but are assigned to DEA as sworn Federal Agents while they are at NTF. The helicopter used on this mission was provided by California Department of Justice...

DEA's mission is to enforce the Federal Law and marijuana is illegal under federal law to possess, manufacture (grow) and distribute. The last thing I can tell you that this marijuana grow of 100 plants is also illegal under State of California law. This is an ongoing investigation, so there is nothing further that I can provide to you…

All decisions on criminal charges are made by the DA's office. If a grow is large enough to be spotted during an aerial mission, then we will eradicate it.”

The California Department of Justice was unable to verify to CBS News 8 that a state DOJ helicopter was used during the NTF operation.

A spokesperson for the Riverside County District Attorney's office said no case related to the raid in De Luz has been referred to their office for criminal charges. So far, no criminal charges have been filed in either state or federal court.

Attorney Shaman questioned the DEA's statement that the De Luz grow was illegal under state law.

“That's a party line statement that the DEA will say in any case where they conduct a raid,” Shaman said. “They will say bold face that it's illegal under state law and they will not justify the statement.”

When it comes to medical marijuana, according to Shaman, “People in the state of California unfortunately have to be aware of the inherent risk that the feds may come in and shut you down.”

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