Medical marijuana collectives in San Diego County and throughout California must shut down within 45 days or face civil and/or criminal prosecution, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
The warning is part of a new federal crackdown on the state’s medical marijuana industry, which includes 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 E. 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 storefront 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,” Birotte said The typical medical marijuana dispensary sells pot solely for the purpose of recreational use, he said. “That is not what California voters intended.”
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.