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Friday, April 26, 2013

Buyer's Market For Illegal Marijuana In Haight Ashbury

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 2:30 PM


We don't buy drugs off the street (anymore). But if we did, or if someone asked us where to score some sweet illicit narcotics, we suppose we might try the Haight Ashbury. If there's one thing a pack of young and dirty "travelers" have, it's hungry dogs -- as well as some molly or some nugs or something to make dubstep tolerable.

This memo appears to have leaked out, as neighborhood complaints about drug dealing in the area near the east end of Golden Gate Park has hit a fever pitch in recent years. The Bay Citizen first gave us news that the new SFPD captain in the area was a hard-line, old-school drug warrior; today the Examiner reported that cops under his watch are using a tactic that appears to be on the way out to perform over 25 percent of the city's drug stings -- and nabbing small-time pot sellers, sometimes with as little as $20 cash on hand and a few measly grams of cannabis that dispensaries would turn away.

This is a buyer's market, in which the seller must be aware -- and eventually prove his or her identity as not a narc. So does this mean the market for white dreadlock wigs is suddenly hot?

The drug war is on like Donkey Kong in police Capt. Greg Corrales's world. Corrales was among the narcotics officers who famously busted original medical cannabis gangster Dennis Peron's Cannabis Buyers Club in the Castro (shortly before Peron received the last laugh when his model went legal in 1996 with the Compassionate Use Act). He took over Park Station in June 2012, at the behest of police Chief Greg Suhr, and since then has been busily busting drug dealers using an old-school method: the decoy arrest.

Police posing as garden variety dope fiends or chemical-seekers approach a would-be seller and ask for the local speciality, be it opiates or a cocaine-derivative in the Tenderloin or Mission, or $40 worth of bud in the Haight. Once a sale is made, the buyer makes a signal and watching plainclothesmen -- and women -- arrest the hapless peddler.

Corrales, under whose watch Haight-area buybusts have doubled in the past year, says the tactic is effective in discouraging street dealing. Critics of the tactic say it boosts police stats by creating crime opportunities and never ensnares big-time dealers, only small-timers.

The Public Defender's Office, which handles 3/4 or more of the felony cases in San Francisco, says that 38 of the city's 160 buy-busts in 2012 were conducted by Corrales's crew -- who pulled off six additional stings on 4/20 alone.

Not all of these are The Wire-worthy arrests. An elderly medical marijuana patient was snared for selling some of his cannabis-infused lozenges to an undercover, according to the Public Defender's Office. Another 19-year old kid was about to hand over some pot for cash when something threw him. "You're not a cop, are you?" he asked and reached over to touch the cop's chest, where he felt the ballistic vest underneath the plainclothes officer's hoodie. He was swarmed and arrested; he had $20 on him.

The tactic works, Corrales says -- fewer street dealers than ever are out, he told The Examiner. But it's an odd way to disrupt the supply chain. The demand is still out there, of course; it's the suppliers who have to be careful to whom they dispense.

Eventually, one would think, the dealers would get wise and be careful to whom they sell. That would mean police activity would shift to the active pot sellers in Mid-Market, or the hard-dope sellers on Polk or Turk... or they would, if enough neighbors complained or if the Police Department otherwise decided to put a hard-line drug warrior there, as opposed to Sharon Meadow [].

That is, unless they adapt and stop selling to people in hoodies and ballcaps. It's unlikely any police department would abide scraggly bears and dreads, however -- so if you want your drugs, better start looking like it.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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