Commercial medical marijuana collectives in San Diego County and throughout California must shut down within 45 days or face civil or criminal prosecution, federal prosecutors said Friday.
The warning is part of a new federal crackdown on the state’s medical marijuana industry, which includes huge commercial grow operations, intricate distribution systems and hundreds of retail stores in the Southland and across the state—even though the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the sale and distribution of cannabis.
Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, joined U.S. attorneys from Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco in announcing the crackdown.
Duffy said illegal marijuana grow operations often found flourishing on federal land create “significant negative consequences” and result in “a very serious public safety issue.”
Duffy said hundreds of warning letters had been sent to the operators and landlords of verified marijuana dispensaries and forfeiture actions were filed against properties where owners allow pot stores to operate.
Those receiving letters were warned that the stores are in violation of federal law and that they have less than two months to “take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana.”
“It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law,” said Andre Birotte Jr, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles.
“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.”
The warning letters note that the operation of a marijuana store “may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets, including the real property on which the dispensary is operating and any money you receive (or have received) from the dispensary operator,” Birotte said at a news conference in Sacramento.
The typical medical marijuana dispensary sells pot solely for the purpose of recreational use, he said, adding: “That is not what California voters intended.”
After his inauguration, President Barack Obama said the federal government would not prosecute medical marijuana users and caregivers. In 1996, California was the first state to decriminalize marijuana for medical use, although it has remained a federal crime to possess or sell it.
Medical marijuana advocates say the Department of Justice’s newly announced stance is “harmful and unnecessary” to patients who use the drug as part of their treatment regimen.
“Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama administration,” said Joe Elford, a lawyer with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy.”
Also on Friday, Duffy announced the filing of charges in two separate cases related to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana.
In the first case, six people were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and other counts stemming from an 18-month investigation that included wiretaps and search warrants executed on marijuana stores in San Marcos and Wildomar and on grow sites in Vista, Oceanside, Temecula, Lake Elsinore, Winchester and Menifee, prosecutors said.
In all, agents seized about 688 marijuana plants, more than 78 pounds of processed marijuana, nearly $23.000 in U.S. currency, 15 vehicles and a fishing boat, authorities said.
In the second case, three defendants were charged in connection with a marijuana growing operation that was uncovered during an ongoing investigation into an organization importing and distributing methamphetamine in San Diego County, prosecutors said.
Mark Anthony Hohn, David Alexander Drake and Deidira Anne Moore are charged with conspiring to manufacture 229 marijuana plants.
In addition to the plants, agents encountered security cameras, dogs, firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and books on incendiary devices and how to run a marijuana grow operation, according to court documents.
—City News Service