Skip to main content

Medical Marijuana: DEA Threatens San Francisco Dispensary Landlords, Dispensaries Sue, Conyers to Hold Hearings

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #514)
Politics & Advocacy

In a reprise of a tactic first used against Los Angeles and Sacramento area dispensaries, the DEA this week sent letters to dozens of owners of buildings leased to San Francisco dispensaries warning them that their buildings could be seized. Dispensary operators responded by filing suit in federal court to stop the agency, and a high-ranking congressman has promised to hold hearings on the matter.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and currently, hundreds of dispensaries are operating in the state to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's admittedly loose law. DEA raids and federal prosecution have failed to blunt their growth, and the landlord letters are only the latest wrinkle in the agency's war on the will of California voters.

"By this notice, you have been made aware of the purposes for which the property is being used," said a copy of the letter sent to San Francisco landlords, signed by the special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, Javier Pena. "You are further advised that violations of federal laws relating to marijuana may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets."

The letter gave no deadlines.

San Francisco once had as many as 40 dispensaries, although only 28 have applied for licenses under a city regulatory process that began in July. But dispensaries may also be linked to other buildings where medical marijuana grows or storage take place.

"The feds do as they please... (and) they've done it before," San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding he would not be surprised at a crackdown. "I would only hope they would coordinate with local law enforcement and that they are aware of the new regulatory system we have in place, and are sensitive to it."

Dispensary operators, however, were not quite so sanguine. A previously little known industry grouping, the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers, last week joined the Los Angeles area Arts District Healing Center in filing a federal lawsuit charging the DEA with extorting landlords. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the DEA from sending any more threatening letters.

Dispensary operators and their supporters are also looking forward to hearings on the issue in the House Judiciary Committee. In response to complaints from California, last Friday, committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced he would hold hearings on the issue.

"I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations legally dispensing medical marijuana to suffering patients," Conyers said in a statement. "The committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts."

"When I saw Representative Conyers statement regarding the DEA's abuse of their power in order to thwart California's law, I knew that our legal efforts were beginning to pay off," said James Shaw, executive director of the Union. "The DEA has alienated too many citizens with their heavy-handed 'above the law tactics' for too long. We welcome all the support we can find in our efforts to ensure our rights are protected."

Steven Schectman, the Union's chief counsel, said he has contacted Representative Conyers' office in order to provide his staff copies of the litigation that was filed in both state and federal Court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible. As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation, we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Its not like L.A. or Sacramento. There are many more patients and people who believe marijuana works has medicine in the Bay Area. The DEA will come but the outcome will make them look like terroist more so than they already are. When we get a democrate in office there will be no more funding for raids. So have your fun why you can DEA because when you cant touch us anymore I will light up on your doorstep and you wont be able to do a thing about it. Till then keep attacking the sick who you call potheads it only makes you look bad....

Fri, 12/14/2007 - 3:27pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

With regard to the statement: "When we get a democrat in office there will be no more funding for raids.", sadly, I must dispute this. Most of the presidential candidates, both Republican and Democrats, have voiced anti-legalization stances. The will of the people is immaterial or ignored. As usual, the politicians are only interested in their re-election and any money they can divert or steal. A rare political exception is Ron Paul. (R) If I were a single issue voter, he would get my vote because of his position regarding the drug war. Unfortunately, we disagree on a number of other issues due to his religious leanings. So, as usual, I am left with a plethora of fools and criminals from which to choose. This country has lost or distorted almost all individual liberties in the last 100 years, and yet the media spin doctors insist we are maturing as a free people in a nation dedicated to individual rights.

Fri, 12/14/2007 - 4:41pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

How come nobody talks much about the fact that the DEA is violating the law by not moving marijuana to Schedule II? There must be at least 100 medical organizations that have made statements about marijuana's accepted medical use. They keep hiding behind "federal law says so", but that's only the case because the DEA has failed to follow the scheduling rules outlined in the CSA.

Not to mention, they've ignored the laws regarding adequate competition in the manufacture of schedule I substances for research (denying Prof. Craker's application).

Fri, 12/14/2007 - 3:41pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I found an interview with the head of the SF Police Union where he says the SFPD does not care about people smoking pot, medicinal or otherwise. It simply is not a priority for the locals. So why is it for the feds? The only presidential candidate I see that has a sensible stance on the drug war is Kucinich. But does he have a chance? Maybe not with the democrats. There is an independent organization , Unity08, looking to put up a candidate like him up for presidency by side-stepping the partisan process. The Democrats and Republicans will not deliver a solution to this issue, so I encourage everyone to make our own solutions happen.

Fri, 12/14/2007 - 5:31pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If marijuana were legal and taxed, we would not be in a budget deficit in California. Furthermore, when the authorities seize marijuana from illegal plots on public land that result in environmental damage, they should give the pot to the dispensaries so that patients can obtain product at much lower cost.

Also, it would be beneficial if the confiscated material were converted to fuel or put to some other productive use instead of being burned to pollute the air. Let's use some common sense and not let morality get in the way.

Fri, 12/14/2007 - 11:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Use Common Sense?
Your proposals are in conflict with long established Federal policy.
It is vital to the anti-drug establishment to maintain the fiction that a 5000 year old drug has no medicinal benefit.
Any admission of any benefit to anyone would endanger the entire faith in this fiction.
Banning the use of hemp as a fuel was one of the purposes of the 1937 legislation, when Henry Ford was planning to run cars on hemp oil. Your proposal (to convert confiscated material for fuel) violates that purpose, and endangers the hegemony of the oil industry in selling liquid fuel.
Your proposal would endanger coercion-enhanced profits of the oil industry, Dupont, Hearst Publications, the Cotton Industry, and various manufacturers of patented anti-depressive medications and pain-killers.
Morality has nothing to do with it.

Sat, 12/15/2007 - 12:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Is it possible that, just as US Foreign policy appears, over the last 50 years, to be especially involved in creating chaos overseas, the DEA is the agency responsible for maintaining chaos nationally? Without it, the government would have no constitutional ability to monitor US citizens personal behaviors and pit "us" against "them".

Sat, 12/15/2007 - 1:50am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

There were many rumors to that effect when he was president, it is certain the CIA is involved in bringing drugs into the country (just the most recent story to that effect).

Ron Paul is the most libertarian candidate in the race, of either party, he has a "live and let live" attitude about what individuals do in their private lives, and he wants the federal government out of our daily lives. He wants our troops home, he wants lower taxes overall, and no income tax or IRS, he wants sound money and the power of coining money back in the hands of congress where it Consstitutionally belongs, so he'd get ridof the Fed. He wants the states to have the powers they were given by the Constitution and the federal government to be put back within the limits imposed on it by the Constitution. Regardless his personal feelings on abortion, he does not want to see a federal ban of the procedure, again he would leave it up to the states as was intended by our Founding Fathers. He is the very best candidaate we have for president, or have had for a couple of decades or more. He is a Jeffersonian republican and if you want to see an end to the war on some drugs, getting him into the presidency is the only way we'll get that within our lifetimes. To learn everything about Ron Paul go here:

Sat, 12/15/2007 - 4:03am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

My congressman, Maurice Hinchey sponsored 2 medical marijuana bills. Ron Paul voted with him on both issues.

Sat, 12/15/2007 - 8:39am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Marijuana doesnt scare people today. What scares people today are republicans....that and

greg williams
san francisco usa

Sun, 12/16/2007 - 1:54pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Well Lets get the word out to everyone loud and clear that Ron Paul is in favor of our constitutional rights and returniing to a political system of the people by the people and for the people! this man has the guts to say it like it is and for once we may have a candidate that realizes hes a public servant. If we back him and convince as many people as we can to vote fo him it may send a message to the politicians that we have had enough and want change. its very clear that by voting alonf party lines we arent accomplishing anything that benefits us the taxpaying citizens of this nation. the current crop of criminals in office olny care about bnenfitting themselves an the lobbists who fatten their wallets at our expense.
I have been a republican for amny years and this year changed my party of registration to the Libertarian party just to send a message that the two ,ajor parties aren't working in my best interest I encourage other to do th same.
It's all about sending a message eventually we may have some inpact on these whores we call politicians.

Mon, 12/17/2007 - 3:18pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Voting for anybody else would be a symbol ignorance. The right to choose means making responsible decisions and accepting responsibility for your actions. The right to choose/liberty is not the right to choose who lives and dies. "There cannot be liberty in a society unless the rights of all innocents are protected. Much can be understood about the civility of a society in observing its regard for the dignity of human lives." By the way I am atheist.
I am PROUD to support Ron Paul as I am Proud to be pro-life as I am PROUD to fight this drug war. To vote against Ron Paul would be a vote in support of the drug war and if you can't see that your Ignorant or apathetic. Support the candidates who are not afraid to fight the drug war publicly.

Wed, 12/19/2007 - 10:48pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

you give your power to an elected dictator. You pay to have his will enforced on you by the worlds largest gang, your lucky you let your selves have a say at all...

Tue, 12/25/2007 - 2:37pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I suffer: Fibromyalgia; Degenerative Disc Disease; Periodic Limb Movement Disorder; Chronic Migraines; Insomnia, many other things, along with memory loss. I am on a horrible regiment of drugs that amount to well over $2000 a month, so I am very careful of what I take when I do have insurance, and horde the name brand items that help my leg cramps, etc.

I am discouraged by people who say, "Why don't you stop all your drugs, and see what you really need?" That is one of the dumbest things ever said to me. I'm on the least amount possible, and my cousin is on a Morphine pump for the Fibromyalgia!

One of the kindest things a friend did for me, was give me Medical Marijuana one night. It has to have enough of the canniboids, so it can't be too potent. What happened to me? My need for the Opiods went down for 2.5 days; insomnia stopped completely. My pain went from a 7/10 to a 10/10 within 20 minutes to NOTHING!! I felt completely normal, and wept!

I do live in California, but am unable to hold a full time job, so scrounging up the money for the doc and the license for the medical marijuana is difficult. I also must eat it in the long run because of my asthma, unless it were a pain emergency; I'd need maintenance dosage, to prevent the pain from forming. That is how we use the opiates, and it kind of works, except first thing in the morning is excruciating pain every day!

I need this - I'm just barely now in my 40s, and I want my life back! I can barely lift my cats, and go out to dinner, or shop.

Please, please let things fall into place and give me my life back...the pain rollercoaster is too much for my friend and I.

Fri, 12/28/2007 - 1:08am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Screw the Feds, screw them here in Australia too. I have had chronic pain for 40 years I have not had a pain free day. Why? because of the gutless uncaring attitude of our governments.
They can go to hell. I will smoke what I like, and as I can't get any decent opiates legally I will buy poppies and make my own opium to relieve my pain. Illegal? stick it. I do not give a rats bottom any more.
I wish I could sue them for the few million dollars it has cost me to obey their unbelievably stupid prohibitionist laws.
You dumb beaurocratic government arses, prohibition never worked with grog, it won't work with other drugs either.

There are a lot of sufferers, lets sue the mothers!

Wed, 09/10/2008 - 6:47am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Speaking of Bill Clinton:

It is opined that Bill Clinton committed racist hate crimes, and I am not free to say anything further about it.

Respectfully Submitted by Andrew Y. Wang, J.D. Candidate
B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
Messiah College, Grantham, PA
Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

(I can type 90 words per minute, and there are probably thousands of copies on the Internet indicating the content of this post.)
“If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memories so they never got stale and faded.” Off the top of my head—it came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

Tue, 03/17/2009 - 8:59pm Permalink

Feds may lift forfeiture threat from medical marijuana clinics
by Mary Spicuzza
May 24, 2009

The letters sent to landlords renting to medical marijuana facilities in recent years were quite specific.

They warned that federal law prohibited renting to or housing dispensaries involved in manufacturing, storing, distributing or using a controlled substance — and added that violating those laws could result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment and fines as well as seizure and forfeiture of real estate and other assets. "Federal law takes precedence over State law," reads one letter sent by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official to a dispensary's landlord.

But those letters all seem to have been mailed before President Barack Obama took office — and well before he issued a memorandum last week for the heads of executive departments and agencies addressing preemption. The May 20 memorandum notes longstanding practices reflect that executive departments have shown respect for state prerogatives, but adds that in recent years federal authorities "sometimes announced that their regulations preempt State law, including State common law" without sufficient basis.

"The purpose of this memorandum is to state the general policy of my Administration that preemption of State law by executive departments and agencies should be undertaken only with full consideration of the legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption," it reads. "Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our Federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values."

His memorandum was released just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from two California counties that argued they were being forced to allow violations of federal law. The counties basically were challenging Proposition 215, a 1996 state voter initiative that says patients can use medical marijuana after getting a recommendation from a licensed physician. The law has since become a model for medical marijuana laws in a dozen other states, although the subsequent laws vary from state to state.

While attitudes toward medical marijuana seem to be shifting under the Obama Administration, it's still unknown how exactly federal law enforcement policies dealing with medical marijuana will change. For example, the DEA website still has a page titled, "California Medical Marijuana Information," aimed at presenting its views on cannabis use. "Local and state law enforcement counterparts cannot distinguish between illegal marijuana grows and grows that qualify as medical exemptions," it reads. "Many self-designated medical marijuana growers are, in fact, growing marijuana for illegal 'recreational' use.

All of this brings to question whether those DEA letters sent to landlords warning of potential forfeiture actions and other penalties are still valid. Asked about the issue several weeks ago, a spokesperson for Attorney General Eric H. Holder did not give a clear answer about the Justice Department's intentions.

When asked whether landlords who rent to medical marijuana cooperatives are still at risk of asset forfeiture, a U.S. Department of Justice official said it's not a priority to target those who follow state laws. Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said in an email that "as part of the federal government's efforts to best employ its resources, the Department focuses its investigative and enforcement activities involving marijuana on large-scale drug traffickers whose conduct is often inconsistent with both federal and state law."

All of this, of course, comes as welcome news to medical marijuana advocates, who say that more than 300 letters were sent by the DEA to landlords in 2007 and 2008. "Since Obama has taken office, we have not seen any letters disseminated," Americans for Safe Access spokesperson Kris Hermes said.

But Hermes added there was recent "activity" in Santa Barbara, which involved warning letters mailed to landlords renting to dispensary operators telling them that had 45 days to evict their tenants or face the consequences. Two clinics shut down after their landlords received the letters, he added, but both have since reopened. "There have been no landlords that have lost their property or have been civilly/criminally prosecuted under Bush or Obama stemming from those letters, underscoring the main reason for their dissemination: to instill fear and intimidation among property owners such that evictions would take place without further action by the federal government," Hermes said in an email.

Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, said he had no comment beyond the information provided by Justice Department headquarters.

Letters warning landlords of possible forfeiture may have already led to closures of as many as seven San Francisco medical marijuana facilities last year, according to a 2008 article in San Francisco Chronicle. Statewide it's unclear exactly how many facilities were shuttered as a result of landlords frightened off by the possibility forfeiture.

DEA spokespeople said they had no comments to add to the Justice Department's statement about forfeiture issues.

Thu, 05/28/2009 - 6:02pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.