On Thursday, it emerged that the U.S. Department of Justice was warning pot dispensaries there they would have 45 days to shut down, and on Friday, California's four U.S. attorneys announced a full-fledged crackdown on what they called the state's "marijuana industry." The extra enforcement is bad news for medical marijuana users, marijuana dispensary operators, and marijuana activists, though the feds say their goal isn't to eradicate pot from the state, but rather to quell the business that's grown up around it, returning the cultivation and sale to small-scale collectives.
On Friday, the DOJ issued a press release outlining its recent enforcement actions, and it's clear the feds mean business. In addition to the 38 letters they sent out on Thursday giving dispensaries a 45-day ultimatum to close, they've indicted six people for drug trafficking in connection with a now-closed store called NoHo Caregivers in Los Angeles and raided the store's former site (now a dispensary called Green Camel) where they seized 23.5 pounds of marijuana. The NoHo indictment charges the defendants with distributing "approximately 600 to 700 pounds of marijuana per month" at the NoHo store and other stores in California as well as transporting it to New York and Pennsylvania. The feds also filed three forfeiture actions (meaning they moved to seize the property) against three different properties, including one that held eight separate marijuana dispensaries.
The DOJ intended the enforcement actions, which The Bay Citizen described as "highly choreographed," to signal a tough stance against all large-scale marijuana dispensaries in the state, which voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Since then, 15 more states have followed suit. Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for California's Northern District, said the crackdown was meant to put a stop to high-profit "drug trafficking" of large-scale dispensaries. “One of the reasons we are here today is to try and put to rest the notion that large medical marijuana businesses can shelter themselves under state law and operate without fear of federal enforcement,” she said, according to The Bay Citizen.
But the marijuana advocacy group NORML said in a statement saying the crackdown was a part of a larger, ongoing effort on the part of the Obama administration to block medical marijuana in California:
The DOJ forfeiture threats are the latest in an escalating series of federal attacks on medical marijuana by the Obama administration :
- 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.
- The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has warned firearms dealers not to sell guns to medical marijuana users.
- The DEA has blocked a 9-year old petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use, ignoring extensive scientific evidence of its medical efficacy.
- NIDA has blocked proposed research on medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
So it seems Californians should be taking this crackdown seriously. Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney for California's Central District, said in his statement that the crackdown actually upheld California law: "While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California." It's safe to predict California's largest cash crop won't disappear from the state altogether under this federal crackdown. But if the feds have their way, the state will once again see more Starbucks than pot dispensaries, instead of the other way around.