Wed, Aug

Federal Prosecutors Lowering the Bong on Illegal Medical Pot Shops

RUSS REPORT - In an effort to curb the proliferation of large, for-profit marijuana dispensaries, four United States Attorneys in California have announced “coordinated enforcement actions targeting illegal operations in the marijuana industry.”

Federal Prosecutors say that since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996 the marijuana industry has swelled beyond the intent of the Compassionate Use Law to include numerous drug-trafficking enterprises that operate commercial grow operations, intricate distribution systems and hundreds of marijuana stores across the state.

The move will target landlords who rent space to medical marijuana dispensaries (MMD) as well as properties used to grow and cultivate marijuana threatening them with criminal penalties and civil forfeitures.

Eastern District US Attorney Benjamin Wagner along with San Francisco US Attorney Melinda Haag, Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr. and San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy outlined enforcement efforts throughout California that included:

“Civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity, which includes, in some cases, marijuana sales in violation of local ordinances; Letters of warning to the owners and lien holders of properties where illegal marijuana sales are taking place; and Criminal cases targeting commercial marijuana activities, including arrests over the past two weeks in cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno.”

"The actions taken in California by our U.S. Attorneys and their law enforcement partners are consistent with the Department’s commitment to enforcing existing federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), in all states,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “The department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses, like cancer, or their immediate caregivers.”

In Los Angeles, Federal Prosecutors pointed to a recently “unsealed” case involving a crackdown of an alleged marijuana trafficking ring in North Hollywood that purportedly made $15 million dollars within an eight-month period.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) also released its Press Release on October 7, decrying the federal crackdowns on the marijuana industry and accusing federal prosecutors of “unwarranted federal overregulation.” Among those accusations: “The IRS has assessed crippling penalties on tax-paying dispensaries by denying standard expense deductions; The Department of Treasury has browbeaten banks into closing accounts of medical marijuana collectives; and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has warned firearms dealers not to sell firearms to medical marijuana users.”

In 2007, The City of Los Angeles attempted to comply with additional legislation enacted for Prop 215, four years prior, to ensure the security and non-diversion of marijuana grown for medical use. LA City Council passed an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) with a moratorium that temporarily prohibited the opening of new MMD’s until the City could establish viable regulations to govern them.

Under the guise of the “hardship exemption provision” contained in the ICO, more than 600 MMD’s set up shop across the City, forcing the City to act quickly to draft a permanent amendment. In 2010, the City successfully passed an ordinance that, because of lawsuits filed against the ordinance, still cannot be implemented.

But, the reality is- as fast as the City of Los Angeles is closing alleged illegal MMD’s, they’re reopening elsewhere under different names and with different signage. MMD’s continue to operate near schools; under-age children patronize these dispensaries to purchase marijuana that is sold to other children; and the litter left by marijuana users in parks and playgrounds is deterring Angelenos’ from visiting some recreational areas.

Many doctors are equally culpable by giving out prescriptions far too liberally, while those who cannot get a prescription know how to forge one so that marijuana can be purchased, unquestioned, at most MMD’s.

The fact still remains that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970- a U.S. Federal law. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution specifically states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Until marijuana is no longer listed as such, these clashes between federal and state laws will continue. However, finding the resources to fund these crackdowns across an entire state swimming in debt is akin to “blowing smoke” that hundreds of communities across California will have to continue to inhale for a long time.

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and to the North Valley Reporter. Katharine Russ can be reached at:    [email protected] ) –cw

Tags: Federal Prosecutors, US Attorneys, pot, medical pot, marijuana, medical marijuana, James Cole, Los Angeles

Vol 9 Issue 81
Pub: Oct 11, 2011