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DEA Raids Seattle Area Marijuana Dispensaries

In an orchestrated strike Tuesday, DEA agents raided at least 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Seattle area, according to the locally based Cannabis Defense Coalition. The raids hit dispensaries in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties, including three operating inside the Seattle city limits.
photo courtesy
US Attorney Jenny Durkan said Tuesday afternoon the dispensaries were raided because they were suspected of violating Washington's medical marijuana laws, which do not explicitly provide for dispensaries. The state legislator had passed a bill to do that earlier this year, but Gov. Christine Gregroire (D) vetoed it, citing fears it would subject state employees to federal prosecution after being warned of just that by federal prosecutors.

"We will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment," Durkan said in a statement. "However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment."

Multiple arrests were reported, including at least 17 in Thurston County, but a final tally is not yet in.

The DEA Seattle office also issued a statement Tuesday: "The DEA will exercise its investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted. This includes investigating organizations or individuals that grow, manufacture, or distribute illegal drugs to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking."

The Justice Department's offensive against medical marijuana distribution has just broadened… again.

United States

NORML Sues Feds in CA Medical Marijuana Fight [FEATURE]

Attorneys with NORML have filed suit against the federal government over its crackdown on medical marijuana distribution and cultivation in California. In lawsuits filed last week in the four US Attorney districts in the state, the NORML attorneys bring a number of legal and constitutional arguments to bear in asserting that the federal government has overstepped its boundaries in interfering with the state's medical marijuana business.

Leading the legal charge are San Francisco attorneys Matt Kumin, David Michael, and Alan Silber.

The lawsuits seek a temporary injunction to block the state's four US Attorneys, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhardt, "from arresting or prosecuting Plaintiffs or those similarly situated, seizing their medical cannabis, forfeiting their property or the property of their landlords or threatening to seize property, or seeking civil or administrative sanctions against them or parties whose property is used to assist them" while the case is being heard.

The plaintiffs in the case are California medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, and patients. Some targeted dispensaries have already been forced to shut down by a deadline last Friday to avoid possible federal reprisals if the temporary injunction is not granted.

The lawsuits also seek a permanent injunction barring further federal action against lawful (under state law) medical marijuana operators and patients. And they ask the courts to declare the federal Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional to the extent that it blocks California residents from obtaining marijuana as medicine as is legal under state law.

The lawsuits are a response to a federal offensive against medical marijuana in California unleashed last month, when the Justice Department sent dozens of letters to California landlords and dispensaries ordering them to close down or face possible seizure of their properties and criminal prosecution. Dozens of dispensaries have already closed in response to the threats.

The federal offensive has also included SWAT-style DEA raids on medical marijuana operations, including some that are among the most closely regulated under state law. In Mendocino County, for example, the DEA raided Northstone Organics, a cultivation operation so regulated by local authorities that every plant had a sheriff's tag on it.

The lawsuits claim the federal government "entrapped" medical marijuana suppliers by seeming to give the okay to their operations in an October 2009 Justice Department memo. They also claim that the federal actions violate the 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.

The 9th Amendment says that merely because some rights are enshrined in the Constitution does not mean the federal government can "deny or disparage others retained by the people." The NORML attorneys argue that threatening seizure of property and criminal sanctions violates the rights of the people to "consult with their doctors about their bodies and health."

The 10th Amendment gives powers not delegated to the federal government "to the States respectively, or to the people." The NORML attorneys argue that the States have the "primary plenary power to protect the health of its citizens," and since the government has recognized and not attempted to stop Colorado's state-run medical marijuana dispensary program, it cannot suggest Colorado has a state's right that California does not.

A lawsuit challenging the federal crackdown filed last month by Americans for Safe Access also makes a 10th Amendment argument. The feds have "instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the state of California and to coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries," the advocacy group complained.

"Although the Obama Administration is entitled to enforce federal marijuana laws, the 10th Amendment forbids it from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the State," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit in San Francisco. "This case is aimed at restoring California's sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country's federalist principles."

The 14th Amendment provides all citizens equal protection under the law. The NORML attorneys argue that because the federal government allows a handful of people access to marijuana through the Investigational New Drug program, allows a state-licensed medical marijuana system in Colorado to go unharassed, and blocks scientific research into medical marijuana, it is effectively denying equal protection to California residents.

The NORML attorneys also take issue with the US Supreme Court decision in Raich v. Gonzalez, which upheld the use of the Constitution's interstate commerce clause to stop California patients from legally growing their own medicine.

While acknowledging the Raich decision, they wrote that "it is still difficult to imagine that marijuana grown only in California, pursuant to California state law, and distributed only within California, only to California residents holding state-issued cards, and only for medical purposes, can be subject to federal regulation pursuant to the Commerce Clause. For that reason, Plaintiffs preserve the issue for further Supreme Court review, if necessary and deemed appropriate."

The courts are going to be busy with this matter for awhile, but a preliminary injunction would allow the California medical marijuana industry to go about its business unmolested while the matter gets sorted out.

United States

Obama Met With San Francisco Medical Marijuana Protest [FEATURE]

Hundreds of angry medical marijuana patients and supporters gathered in San Francisco's South of Market Tuesday to greet President Obama as he appeared at a $5,000 a head fundraiser at the W Hotel. They were joined by hundreds of other protestors, mainly Occupy San Francisco members and environmentalists upset with the Keystone pipeline.

Boisterous crowds tried to send the president a message in San Francisco (Image: Phil Smith)
The president never saw the demonstrators -- he entered the building through a back entrance a block away from where protestors had gathered -- but boisterous chants of "DEA, Go Away!" and "Whose State? Our State! Whose Medicine? Our medicine!" echoed through the streets as police watched impassively.

It was the second straight day of medical marijuana protests aimed at the president. He got similar treatment Monday in Los Angeles.

The California medical marijuana community is upset with the president over what it sees as a multi-pronged attack on medical marijuana production and distribution by agencies of the federal government (sometimes in cahoots with recalcitrant local officials). Despite Obama's campaign pledges and the Department of Justice's October 2009 memo directing federal prosecutors to back off from medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law, the pace of DEA raids has only accelerated since he took office in January 2009.

It's not just the DEA. The Department of the Treasury has been going after financial institutions that do business with the medical marijuana industry, forcing banks to submit to onerous record-keeping of their dealings and persuading some of them to drop their medical marijuana customers. Similarly, the IRS has joined the attack, refusing to allow dispensaries to deduct standard business expenses and hitting them with whopping past due tax bills.

Most recently, the four US Attorneys who cover California held a much ballyhooed press conference in Sacramento announcing that they were going after what they described as an industry out of control. They announced a campaign aimed at dispensary and grow operations landlords, sending out a wave of letters threatening property owners with asset forfeiture and even stiff criminal charges if they don't throw out their clients.

But while the feds say they are targeting people who abuse the system  for profit, they have recently gone after some of the most respected, regulated and compliant operations in the state. Steve De Angelo's Harborside Health Center in Oakland is the biggest target of the IRS and was recently handed a $2 million tax bill after its expenses were disallowed; Lynette Shaw's Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana is the longest-licensed dispensary in the state and enjoys impeccable relations with local officials, but its landlord was hit with a threat letter; and Matt Cohen's Northstone Organics Cooperative is the first licensed grow -- with every plant tagged -- under Mendocino County's cutting edge regulatory scheme, but was raided by the DEA earlier this month.

Occupy San Francisco makes an appearance. (Image: Phil Smith)
The effects of the renewed federal campaign of raids and intimidation couldn't be any clearer than the message that now greets visitors to Northstone's web page. "We are closed due to a federal raid on our farm," the message reads. "The entire crop was eradicated. We are closed until further notice. We will be sending out an e-letter informing memberships of what they can do as well as upcoming protests. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"Contrary to DOJ claims that they are targeting abusive profiteers, their list of targets includes some of the most respected and best regulated facilities in the state," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer.

Federal prosecutors are also targeting a trio of San Francisco dispensaries for being within a thousand feet of a school or playground, citing a federal drug-free school zone statute that enhances penalties for drug crimes committed within that forbidden zone. But California law allows dispensaries within 600 feet of schools and playgrounds.

In the case of the two Mission area dispensaries within a thousand feet of a school, the dispensaries operated there before the school arrived, and the school has made it known that it has no problems with them. In the case of the dispensary located near a playground, advocates point out that several bars and sex clubs nearby are in closer proximity to the kids.

"The DOJ's complaints represent a frivolous and cynical attack on land use decisions that properly belong to local government," said Gieringer. "This is a blatant example of federal government over-regulation run amok."

"It feels a little Kafkaesque," said medical marijuana and legalization proponent state Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) at a press conference preceding the protest. "We've been sandbagged by US Attorneys acting like thugs. I almost expect a drone to come down on a dispensary in Fresno one of these days," he said, barely cracking a smile.

Ammiano wants a meeting with Department of Justice officials on the issue, he said. "Why don't they lean on the banks for the foreclosures, instead of medical marijuana?" he asked. "I'll be damned if I know what Justice, IRS, and the rest are thinking right now."

What a difference a couple of years makes. (Image: Phil Smith)
Lynette Shaw, whose Marin Alliance dispensary is being threatened, called out the president. "After we helped put Obama in office, I thought we were in the clear," she said. "Obama, you have the power to issue an executive order and stop this," she challenged.

"The US Attorneys said they were going after the criminals, but that's not true," said Harborside's DeAngelo. "Northstone Organics, the Marin Alliance, and Harborside are all 100% compliant. The targeting by US Attorneys suggests they either need to learn how to aim or to learn how to tell the truth," he said.

It's not just about patients and dispensaries, but also about jobs and the economy, said several speakers. "If the federal government closes down the dispensaries, thousands of hard-working Californians stand to lose their jobs," said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 Cannabis Division Coordinator Mike Witemeyer, whose union has organized dispensary workers. "We stand with the patients."

"With the federal budget on empty, the economy in disarray, our prisons overflowing, and prohibition-related violence raging across the border, it's an outrageous misuse of federal resources to wage war on medical marijuana," said California NORML's Gieringer. "Federal anti-drug bureaucrats are afraid because the dispensaries are proving that it's possible for marijuana to become a safe, legal, tax-paying industry and so expose their own last-century policies as bankrupt and obsolete."

It's unclear what the Obama administration thinks it is gaining with its ever more hostile policies toward medical marijuana production and distribution in California. What is clear is that it is alienating many people in California who voted for Obama in 2008.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Bay Area Pols Slam Feds' Medical Marijuana Crackdown

A pair of Northern California elected officials last week urged the federal government to back off on its "senseless assault" on medical marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, they said they want to meet with federal officials to see what's behind the crackdown.

Stalwart supporters of medical marijuana state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) took to the microphones at a news conference at the State Building in San Francisco.

"I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries," Leno said in remarks reported by KTVU-TV. "California voters intended that patients should have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana," he said.

Leno and Ammiano said they are pondering new state legislation to regulate dispensaries, but added that such laws would be workable only if California legislators hear from the Justice Department that such regulations would have an impact on federal enforcement efforts. They said they hoped to speak with Justice Department officials in the next few days.

"To be successful legislatively, we would need some indication from the federal government that (the state legislation) would impact" the Justice Department offensive, Ammiano said. 

"Call the dogs off and let's sit down," Leno said.

The news conference came in response to the October 7 announcement by California's four US Attorneys that they are ramping up federal persecution of medical marijuana providers in the state. Even though California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, the federal government refuses to recognize such laws.

While the Justice Department has said it is not targeting patients, it is clearly targeting dispensaries and medical marijuana grow operations, with DEA raids ongoing and threatening letters being sent to dispensary landlords in a bid to force them to evict their medical marijuana tenants.

At the press conference, Ammiano conceded that California has little recourse when it comes to federal interference in its medical marijuana program. "In the end, they'll probably do whatever they want," he said.

Now, the federal government needs to be convinced that raiding medical marijuana providers operating in compliance with state laws is not what it wants. President Obama had a chance to get that message when he visited California on a fundraising swing this week. He was met by organized protestors when he came to San Francisco Tuesday.

The Feds Can't Stop Medical Marijuana, CA Activists Say [FEATURE]

The ongoing federal offensive against medical marijuana production and distribution in California is weighing ominously over the state's billion-dollar-a-year medical marijuana business, but while the industry could take some casualties, patients could suffer, and the battle field could get ugly, the feds can't stop it, a trio of well-placed activist observers said this week.

medical marijuana protest, 2006 (photo courtesy ASA)
Despite the Obama administration's famous 2009 Justice Department memo saying it would not interfere with operations complying with state laws in states where it is legal, the federal government has been raiding medical marijuana operations at a pace faster than the Bush administration. This year, the administration has become evidently more hostile, with a range of federal agencies doing what they can to make life difficult.

The Treasury Department has been scaring financial institutions away from dealing with medical marijuana businesses, the IRS is exercising punitive tax policy decisions designed to run them out of business, and even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms has gotten into the act, warning gun dealers that medical marijuana patients are "addicts" who can't legally purchase weapons.

Tax liens and banking hassles are one thing, but being confronted by paramilitarized DEA raiders, threatened with having properties seized, or being faced with lengthy federal prison sentences is a whole other category of hurt. And that's what really has California's medical marijuana community up in arms. Between threatening news conferences by federal prosecutors, dozens of warning letters to landlords going out, and a steady drumbeat of DEA raids, medical marijuana patients and providers are scared -- and angry.

"I haven't seen people so outraged since the days of WAMM and the Ed Rosenthal raids," said long-time California NORML head Dale Gieringer. "I'm hearing life-long Democrats say they can't vote for this -- unless Obama does something, he's going to lose a lot of support. I know people who gave a lot of money to his campaign last time who are sitting on their cash now."

That anger is taking to the streets, as well as the phone lines and the Internet. There will be a statewide protest at the federal courthouse in Sacramento as well as other federal courthouses on November 9, local demonstrations have already taken place in San Francisco and San Diego, with more scheduled around the state, and plans are in the work to protest President Obama when he visits San Francisco and Los Angeles next week.

"There's a lot going on," said Gieringer. "I can't keep track of it all."

Activists already held a White House call-in day on Tuesday, and Gieringer urged people to call their US representatives to urge them to support H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Protection Act.

"That would solve this problem," he said. "We really need to focus on Congress, but we also need to try to get something from this administration."

Americans for Safe Access
(ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, is deeply involved in waging the counteroffensive. It has sent out email action alerts to members and is mobilizing on the ground and at the courthouse as well, said spokesman Kris Hermes.

"ASA and other stakeholders are holding protests throughout California," he said, "and we intend to continue to apply pressure through the federal courts. At some point soon, we will file an appeal on the federal rescheduling petition case, and we'll be going head to head with Obama on that issue. Because the Obama administration is drawing so much attention to this, something has to break. We hope it leads to a more sensible public health policy."

But despite the angst aroused by the intensifying federal campaign, and despite acknowledging the real suffering likely to result -- from patients being denied medicine to local governments denied revenues to otherwise law-abiding citizens being subjected to federal raids and prison -- advocates said the federal campaign was ultimately doomed to failure.

"It's a serious threat in the sense that it will have an impact on the number of dispensaries and growers across California, and that will translate into hundreds if not thousands of patients being denied their medication and forced into the illicit market," ASA's Hermes. "I don't think that's the intention, but it will certainly be the effect."

But, citing the Bush administration's 2007 threat letter campaign, when warning missives went out to more than 300 landlords, resulting in the closing of some dispensaries, Hermes said the feds were fighting a losing battle.

"They don't have the resources or capacity to follow through on their threats, so there will be an impact, but it will be temporary," Hermes said. "When Bush did it, dozens of dispensaries shut down, but now there are twice the number of dispensaries in the state that there were then. It will be difficult for the feds to have a lasting impact, which is not to say they're not trying. And they're mounting this campaign on the backs of taxpayers."

"We've been through this before," sighed Cal NORML's Gieringer, citing not only the Bush threat letter campaign, but also the 2002-2003 crackdown under then Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the 1998 Clinton administration lawsuit against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Co-op.

"Every time, we've seen some damage done and some retrenchment, but every time the industry has come back stronger than ever in a year or two. I'm not sanguine about it," he said, "just used to being outraged. The government has a bankrupt policy that it can't really enforce very effectively. A lot of good people could get sent to prison, but at the end of the day, they're just flailing around."

Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, owner of one of Oakland's dispensaries, and the man who put his personal fortune into last year's Proposition 19, has spent years looking over his shoulder for the feds. This is just another twitch of the dying dinosaur's tail, he said.

"We're always worried," Lee laughed mirthlessly. "But in the end, we'll win. There is too much for them to take out everybody. There will be sacrifices, people will be hurt, but now we have an army to fight back. In the long run, this just pushes us toward legalization."

Oakland also has a friendly city government and a history of pro-legalization voting, Lee pointed out in an oblique warning to the feds. "Here in Oakland, we passed Measure Z with 65% of the vote, and that made possession and sales by adults and patients the lowest law enforcement priority," Lee pointed out. "Right now, we have six or so Measure Z clubs open. If they shut down the dispensaries, there will be a lot more of them."

Not only did Oakland pass Measure Z, which directed city officials to lobby for complete legalization, Lee pointed out, it also overwhelmingly passed Proposition 19.

"We're well on record for complete legalization, and the city needs the tax money more than ever," he said. "This is an ongoing battle between local governments here and the feds, and tax dollars is part of this fight. Right now, it's got us the worst of both worlds -- prohibition and taxation -- but hopefully one day we'll get taxation with legalization. There's certainly an incentive for local governments."

Landlords may tremble, dispensaries may close, people may go to prison. Medical marijuana and pot legalization supporters will fight in the trenches, though, and they are confident time and the tides are on their side. But only time will tell if they are right.

United States

DEA Hits More CA Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

DEA agents conducted raids on two more California medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, according to local press reports. Monday's targets were the Medizen dispensary on Northgate Boulevard in Sacramento and the Central Valley Caregiver's Co-operative in nearby Stockton.

The raids are only the latest evidence of the Obama administration's ramped-up war on medical marijuana distribution in the Golden State. They come less than two weeks after the state's four US Attorneys announced they were aggressively going after not only dispensaries, but landlords and property owners. They also come less than a week after a DEA raid on Northstone Organic, a fully state- and county-law compliant medical marijuana grow and co-op in Mendocino County.

In Sacramento, a Medizen employee told local TV news that neither the dispensary nor its landlord had been the object of a threat letter from the feds, but that the business was forced to close without warning.

"I was supposed to open at 10am. They got here at 7:30. I heard... they came in and basically took all our stuff, seized everything, took all our cash and product and stuff and that's basically it," said employee Mike Amarao. "They just said they're shutting all the clubs down in Sacramento, that's all we heard."

An attorney representing several Sacramento dispensaries said that some were going out of business rather than weather the threat of federal harassment and prosecution. That's going to hurt the city, which instituted a dispensary tax in July. It was estimated that the tax would generate $2 million for city coffers, but without dispensaries that figure would become inoperative.

There are no details on the Stockton raid.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, Orange County NORML and Americans for Safe Access are gearing up for a Tuesday night protest in Lake Forest in Orange County, where eight dispensaries have been ordered to close by a landlord whose bank account has been seized by federal officials.

Activists there accuse local officials of calling in the feds to do their dirty work after their own anti-dispensary efforts were blocked in state court. The city had spent $600,000 in its failed legal efforts.

Federal agents Saturday handed out asset forfeiture notices to some of the dispensaries. As of Tuesday, five of the eight dispensaries had already closed, with the others reported to be closing by day's end.

United States

DEA Raids California, Colorado Medical Marijuana Operations

Putting some law enforcement muscle behind this month's words of warning from federal prosecutors that a new crackdown on medical marijuana distribution was getting underway, DEA agents late last week raided a model regulated medical marijuana grow in Northern California, a medical marijuana dispensary in Southern California, and a medical marijuana grow in Colorado.

"The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick," claimed Laura Duffy, the San Diego-based US Attorney at the October 8 Sacramento press conference. "It's a pervasive, for-profit industry that violates federal law."

But the operation raided Thursday, Northstone Organics in Mendocino County, has been touted as a model medical marijuana grow. It holds a Mendocino County sheriff's permit to grow the 99 pot plants seized and destroyed by the feds, pays an estimated $8,500 annually in fees to remain compliant, and has even had sheriff's deputies testify favorably about it in a state court case where Northstone drivers delivering medicine to patients were arrested in Sonoma County.

Northstone Organics founder and owner Matt Cohen told the Ukiah Daily News Friday that heavily-armed agents raided his home and property early Thursday morning, destroying plants and hauling off evidence, but not charging him with a crime.

"They destroyed our home and eradicated everything," Cohen said. "They came in, guns blazing. They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns."

Cohen said the smash and grab raiders included six DEA agents, a state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent, and a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy, "who didn't know what he was walking into here."

Northstone is a strict cooperative, growing the plants it distributes to members in the area, as well as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is fully compliant with California's medical marijuana laws.

"If we're not legal, nobody's legal," Cohen said. "We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation. We worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the US Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution."

The message the feds are sending? "Go back underground, I guess; make our community a less safe place to be," Cohen said.

The Northstone Organics raid was "shameful and despicable," said Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, which reported the raid as it was still going on Thursday morning. "The DEA is doing nothing but encouraging lawlessness and disobedience to the law, said Gieringer."This is a victory for the Mexican cartels."

A day earlier and several hundred miles to the south, DEA agents and Pomona police raided the Green Cross USA dispensary, seizing marijuana, marijuana edibles, and records. But unlike the Northstone Organics raid, the raid on Green Cross appears to have been instigated by local authorities, who called in the feds to help.

Pomona Police Capt. Paul Capraro told the Daily Bulletin that the dispensary owner and landlord had received threat letters from the US Attorney's office. The letters said "if they didn't close down they would be subject to criminal prosecution, civil prosecution, and property seizure," he said.

Pomona banned dispensaries with a March 2008 ordinance, and had cited the dispensary in March for operating without a business permit. The owner, Jeffrey Maul, was convicted of operating without a business license, but is appealing that conviction.

The joint city-DEA action sends a message to other dispensaries in Pomona, Capraro said. "Our message is simple, that dispensaries are not lawful businesses in Pomona."

But it's not just a local case, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "We seized contraband, but also gathered evidence for the ongoing investigation," she said, adding that arrests could be forthcoming and that the city and the DEA had worked together for months on the case.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, what originated as a local law enforcement raid against a medical marijuana grower who contracted to grow as part of a larger grow at Cherry Top Farms in Denver morphed during the day into a joint local-state-federal raid replete with carloads of DEA agents and US Attorney representatives.

"We are 100% compliant" with state medical marijuana laws, a Cherry Top Farms manager told Westword after the raid. "But when the feds walk in, they can do whatever the hell they want." Local police had issues with the contract grower who was the original target of the raid, the manager said. "They came to take care of him, but when they got here, they were unable to turn a blind eye, and they did a lot of damage," he complained.

When the first officers showed up late Thursday morning, "it was the Denver Police Department, and then it was the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Then there were the feds. When they got here, they decided they needed a search warrant for us, too," the manager explained. "They lined us all up and questioned us and took our phones and [state mandated ID] badges. Then they gave some of the option to leave, after they handed over their IDs. But a few of chose to stay, and we were forced to wait in a two-parking space area, probably 10 feet by 10 feet, from 11:00am to 11:00pm. They did let us go to the bathroom, but you definitely had to ask permission to take a piss."

The raiders cleaned out Cherry Top, the manager said. "They took all of our live plants, all of our medicine, all of our extracts, and all of our baked goods," plus at least one more thing. "We have these cute t-shirts, little tank-top titty shirts, and one of the female officers put one on and was dancing around. I said to one of the agents at the door, 'I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn't seem to be very professional.' And he said, 'It's been a long day. We're just trying to have some fun.'"

The t-shirt has vanished, the manager said. "It's not here. She took it."

After last week's threats from prosecutors in Sacramento, it now appears that the feds are backing up those threats with actions. The medical marijuana wars are heating up again.

Brown Vetoes California Hemp Bill, Criticizes Federal Ban

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers in select counties to grow hemp, saying it would subject them to federal prosecution, but in doing so, he lashed out at the federal ban on hemp farming in the US, calling it "absurd."

hemp field at sunrise (
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill, Senate Bill 676, would have allowed farmers in four Central California counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specified that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers would have to submit their crops to testing before they go to market.

The bill had mandated an eight-year pilot program that would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.

But although, like three other hemp bills that have been vetoed in California in the past decade, the bill passed the legislature and had the broadest support of any hemp measure considered in the state, Gov. Brown killed it, citing the federal proscription on hemp farming.

"Federal law clearly establishes that all cannabis plants, including industrial hemp, are marijuana, which is a federally regulated controlled substance," Brown said in his veto message. "Failure to obtain a permit from the US Drug Enforcement Administration prior to growing such plants will subject a California farmer to prosecution," he noted.

"Although I am not signing this measure, I do support a change in federal law," Brown continued. "Products made from hemp -- clothes, food, and bath products -- are legally sold in California every day. It is absurd that hemp is being imported into the state, but our farmers cannot grow it."

Industry groups were not assuaged by Brown's language criticizing the federal hemp ban. In a press release Monday, Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association blasted the veto.

"Vote Hemp and The Hemp Industries Association are extremely disappointed by Gov. Brown's veto. This is a big setback for not only the hemp industry -- but for farmers, businesses, consumers and the California economy as a whole. Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as a natural, renewable food and body care ingredient. It's a shame that Gov. Brown agreed that the ban on hemp farming was absurd and yet chose to block a broadly supported effort to add California to the growing list of states that are demanding the return of US hemp farming. There truly was overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the HIA.

"After four vetoes in ten years in California, it is clear we lack a governor willing to lead on this important ecological, agricultural and economic issue. We will regroup, strategize and use this veto to our advantage at the federal level," added Vote Hemp Director and co-counsel Patrick Goggin.

The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Obama DOJ Ratchets Up War Against Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Signaling an intensification of federal government targeting of medical marijuana providers, the four US Attorneys in California last Friday announced a campaign of "coordinated enforcement actions targeting the illegal operations of the commercial marijuana industry in California." The announcement came at a Sacramento news conference.

The federal prosecutors said their enforcement actions would rely on pursuing civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties where dispensaries are located, sending threatening letters to dispensary landlords, and criminal prosecutions. The prosecutors said recent dispensary busts in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego were part of the enforcement campaign.

The feds said that enforcement actions would vary across regions of the state and that they would be working with federal law enforcement and local officials to crack down. The Department of Justice in Washington made clear that this was not an instance of prosecutors going off the reservation.

"The actions taken today in California by our US 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. However, US Attorneys continue to have the authority to prosecute significant violations of the CSA, and related federal laws."

Medical marijuana supporters were quick to charge the Obama administration with waging a renewed war on them and reneging on its promises to not interfere in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama administration," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy on medical marijuana." On the campaign trail and in the White House, President Obama pledged that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws."

"It is unconscionable that the federal government would override local and state laws to enforce its will over the will of the people," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "States must be allowed to enforce their own laws without harmful interference from the Obama administration."

"The Obama administration's latest moves strongly suggest that their medical marijuana policies are now being driven by overzealous prosecutors and the anti-marijuana ideologues who dominated policymaking in past administrations," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Barack Obama is betraying promises made when he ran for president and turning his back on the sensible policies announced during his first year in office. Instead of encouraging state and local authorities to regulate medical marijuana distribution in the interests of public safety and health, his administration seems determined to recriminalize as much as possible. It all adds up to bad policy, bad politics and bad faith."

Large medical marijuana dispensary operations are not health care providers but criminal organizations hiding behind patients, the prosecutors claimed Friday.

"Large commercial operations cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves," said Benjamin Wagner, US Attorney for the Eastern District of California. "Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously sick people and those who are caring for them. We are making these announcements together today so that the message is absolutely clear that commercial marijuana operations are illegal under federal law, and that we will enforce federal law."

"The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick," claimed Laura Duffy, US Attorney for the Southern District of California. "It's a pervasive for-profit industry that violates federal law. In addition to damaging our environment, this industry is creating significant negative consequences, in California and throughout the nation. As the number one marijuana producing state in the country, California is exporting not just marijuana but all the serious repercussions that come with it, including significant public safety issues and perhaps irreparable harm to our youth."

The prosecutors said they had sent out "dozens" of threat letters to dispensary and grow-op landlords in the past few days. In the Southern and Eastern districts, they targeted building owners, while in the Central district they sent letters to landlords "in selected cities where officials have requested federal assistance." In the Northern district, they targeted their threat letters to landlords of dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools or parks, but warned "we will almost certainly be taking action against others."

The prosecutors also said they had already filed seven civil forfeiture complaints against properties where landlords allow dispensaries to operate. One complaint alleged that an Orange County strip mall had eight dispensaries and that recalcitrant city officials had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to shut them down.

One letter targeted the landlord for the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) in Fairfax, which has been operating with the support of the city and without complaint since 1996. In a letter to MAMM's landlord, the US Attorney for Northern California warned that the dispensary was operating within a "prohibited distance of a park." The letter threatened MAMM's landlord with up to 40 years in federal prison, seizure of his property, and forfeiture of all rental proceeds for the last 15 years if he doesn't evict MAMM.

Similar letters have gone out to other dispensary landlords warning them of pending federal action because their tenants are too close to schools. The dispensaries are operating in accord with California law, which treats them like liquor stores and bars them from operating within 600 feet of a school, but federal law imposes additional penalties for the distribution of controlled substances with 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, and public parks.

"This is nuts," said Greg Anton, attorney for the Marin Alliance and its director, Lynnette Shaw. "There's a dispensary near where I live that sells guns, narcotics, alcohol and tobacco and it's full of children.  It's called Walmart, and it's safe. So is Lynnette's place. She's proven that over 15 years."

"This is an outrageous abuse of law enforcement resources for the DOJ to use property forfeiture to enforce meddlesome, nanny-state regulations," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer. "The federal government has no business dictating local zoning decisions. No one has any problems with the Marin Alliance except the bureaucrats in Washington."

The DEA is also along for the ride. "The DEA and our partners are committed to attacking large-scale drug trafficking organizations, including those that attempt to use state or local law to shield their illicit activities from federal law enforcement and prosecution," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. "Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that its distribution and sale is a serious crime. It also provides a significant source of revenue for violent gangs and drug organizations. The DEA will not look the other way while these criminal organizations conduct their illicit schemes under the false pretense of legitimate business."

And so is the IRS. "IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to work with our law enforcement partners and lend its financial expertise to this effort," said IRS chief of criminal enforcement Victor Song. "We will continue to use the federal asset forfeiture laws to take the profits from criminal enterprises."

Friday's announcement of a federal crackdown is just the latest in a series of moves against medical marijuana providers by the Obama administration. The Department of the Treasury has been busily scaring banks into shutting down the accounts of providers in California and Colorado, the Department of Justice is aggressively prosecuting dispensary operators in Montana and elsewhere, and the IRS is attempting to drive dispensaries out of business by denying them standard business expense deductions -- Oakland's Harborside Health center was just this week hit with a $2.5 million tax bill after the IRS disallowed its standard business deductions.

Meanwhile, the administration has continued to block federal approval of medical marijuana, with the DEA recently rejecting a nine-year-old petition to reschedule pot, saying it would only accept large-scale, controlled FDA trials. But at the same time, the DEA has acted to block such trials by refusing to allow a private production facility to supply marijuana for medical research. The only existing source for marijuana for research purposes is the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, but it recently blocked a request for marijuana to study its effects on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, saying it has no intention of allowing studies that would develop marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"How can the Obama administration say that it's fine for sick people to use this proven medicine, and yet tell them they can't have any legal place to get it?" asked Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Medical marijuana isn't going away. Over 70% of Americans support making medical marijuana legal, and 16 states allow it."

But not the federal government. Not under George Bush and, it is increasingly clear, not under Barack Obama. With Obama facing no challengers in the Democratic primary and with reform-friendly Republicans unlikely to win the Republican nomination, it appears that medical marijuana is going to be condemned to wander through the political wilderness for the foreseeable future.

The question now becomes whether any sort of response can stem the federal onslaught, and just what that response might be. Or does the dispensary scene just wither away and die?

California Hemp Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

A bill that would allow farmers in four California counties to grow industrial hemp has passed the state legislature and now sits on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) awaiting his signature. The bill, Senate Bill 676, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, passed the Senate earlier this year, then passed the Assembly last week.

Hemp field at sunrise. Will California farmers be able to enjoy its fruits? (
Sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the bill would allow farmers in those counties to grow industrial hemp for the legal sale of hemp seed, oil, and fiber to manufacturers. The bill specifies that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and farmers must submit their crops to testing before it goes to market.

The eight-year pilot program would end in 2020, but not before the California attorney general would issue a report on law enforcement impact and the Hemp Industries Association would issue a report on its economic impact.

"California is one step closer to building a successful hemp industry in the Central Valley," said Leno after the Assembly approved the bill on a vote of 49-22 on September 7. The Senate gave its final approval to Assembly amendments the following day.

While hemp bills have passed the state legislature previously, SB 676 is the furthest reaching yet and managed to pick up support from businesses, farming groups, local government, labor, even law enforcement. Supporters ranged from the California Grange and the California Certified Organic Growers to the United Food and Commercial Workers to the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the Kern and King county sheriffs, both of whom wrote letters of support in favor of the bill.

"Hemp is a versatile cash and rotation crop with steadily rising sales as an organic food and body care ingredient. Today, more than 30 industrialized nations grow industrial hemp and export it to the US. Hemp is the only crop that is illegal to grow yet legal for Americans to import," explained Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp and executive director of the Hemp Industries Association.

The US hemp market is now estimated to be about $420 million in annual retail sales, but manufacturers must turn to foreign suppliers because the DEA, which refuses to differentiate between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana, bars its cultivation here.

Sacramento, CA
United States

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