SACRAMENTO (AP) - A federal magistrate will hear arguments Oct. 22 to decide if records for more than 5,000 Northern California medical marijuana users can be viewed by federal authorities.
Chief Magistrate Gregory Hollows set the hearing Thursday in a courtroom packed with medical marijuana users, several in wheelchairs.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized thousands of records Sept. 28 from the California Medical Research Center in El Dorado County in what was portrayed as an investigation into alleged marijuana distribution. Clinic owners Dr. Mollie Fry and her attorney husband, Dale Schafer, deny selling marijuana or certificates to buy it.
Neither was arrested and the seized records of their clients, which include several hundred South Lake Tahoe residents, remain sealed.
The 2-year-old clinic in the town of Cool charges $200 to determine if people can use marijuana for medical conditions from cancer to chronic pain. If they qualify under 1996's Proposition 215, which bars criminal prosecution for using marijuana for medical conditions, they are referred to cannabis ''clubs'' elsewhere for marijuana.
Agents seized 32 marijuana plants that Fry keeps for personal use. She is a breast cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient.
U.S. Attorney Anne Pings argued Thursday the records are relevant to her department's investigation and a possible case that clinic recommendations of eligibility represent ''aiding and abetting'' marijuana sales.
Clinic attorney J. David Dick, who specializes in marijuana cases, said he will ask that the records be returned.
''This, in essence, is the seizure of every single case file in an attorney's office,'' he said. ''This is why there are so many people here. They're concerned with their privacy rights.''
Pings, citing a ''crime-fraud exception,'' told the chief magistrate that traditional attorney-client privilege does not apply to the records.
''Theoretically, the government is entitled to know what individuals purchased marijuana or were informed about the opportunity to purchase marijuana,'' she said.
After the hearing, Schafer told more than 60 people who attended, ''Nobody has a right to look at your records.'' He said, ''It's going to be over my dead body.''
Heather Schafer, a clinic worker and daughter of Schafer and Fry, said ''We anticipated that our lines were tapped, that the government didn't like what we were doing.''
Wheelchair-bound Dee Blanc of Placerville said she dropped to 81 lbs. before she began using marijuana to gain weight.
''I'm a chronic pain patient,'' she said.
Kimberly Craft, of Placerville said,''We have a state law that protects us. I'm afraid they're going to put us on a list and decide who's next.''