Feds to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California

Property owners leasing land to medical marijuana dispensaries in California could face criminal prosecution and loss of their properties if they fail to evict their tenants within a 45-day warning period stipulated in letters sent by federal prosecutors this week.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that at least 16 letters had been sent to dispensaries or their landlords throughout California — with at least 12 to dispensaries in San Diego — stating that they are violating federal drug laws, despite the fact that medical marijuana distribution is legal in California.

“It’s a scare tactic, a way of intimidating great numbers of property owners and dispensaries for the price of postage,” said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a national organization that advocates for the legal use of medical marijuana. “It’s a lot of hot air, but hot air that needs to be taken seriously — this points out the hypocrisy of the Obama administration policy on medical marijuana.”

According to Hermes, a former member of the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission, none of Berkeley’s three dispensaries have received such notice, though letters have been sent to Northern California property owners in Marin County and Sacramento.

Hermes said the influx of letters also echoes actions of the Bush administration in 2007 and 2008, as part of an attempt to scare over 300 California dispensaries out of operation. No action was taken to follow up on those threats, though the campaign did result in the shutting down of a number of California dispensaries, according to Hermes.

“The letters under the Bush administration were mostly sent out by (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents as opposed to U.S. attorneys, “ Hermes said. “This is a sort of heightened level of attack where federal prosecutors are threatening pursuit of criminal action … you could consider this more serious, however at the same time there’s no certainty whatsoever that the U.S. attorneys are going to act on those (letters).”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento will hold a news conference Friday to discuss the crackdown.

AP reported that the state’s four U.S. attorneys are scheduled to announce a broader coordinated crackdown Friday.

“I have the sense that many more letters will be going out,” Hermes said.

Sarah Mohamed is the lead city government reporter.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento would hold a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss the crackdown. In fact, the conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday.