The federal war on state-legalized medical marijuana took another harsh turn this week when it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice is using civil lawsuits in an effort to seize any properties being used in medical marijuana businesses in California.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Colorado said that in Colorado, U.S. Attorney John Walsh had already sent similar letters to medical marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet of schools, and to their landlords, but that he did not anticipate letters going out to businesses that were not within 1,000 feet of schools.
Dorschner said that every single business that had received such a letter in Colorado had either closed or moved. Had they not complied with the letters, Dorschner said the DOJ could have seized the “contraband” within the businesses and/or seized the buildings.
He said he would not rule anything out when it comes to future enforcement actions, but said, “We are using our limited resources to target businesses within 1,000 feet of schools.”
He said he did not know how U.S. Attorneys in California had determined which businesses to target.
According to Reuters, which broke the story, federal attorneys in Los Angeles last week filed asset-forfeiture suits against several property owners and sent letters threatening similar actions to dozens of other landlords.
This news comes on the heels of Connecticut becoming the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Local marijuana rights attorney Brian Vicente said today he was unaware of any similar actions in Colorado. He said he thinks each U.S. Attorney’s office has the discretion to pursue actions like this or not.
“They sent letters like this in January to shut down dispensaries (near schools) but they have not done anything this broad-based in Colorado yet, that I know of,” he said.
“This is a wild waste of scarce law enforcement resources and is being done against the will of the people,” Vicente said about the California suits.
“It is not like people are going to stop using marijuana. The only question is whether you want it to be regulated and taxed and above-board or whether you want it for sale in parks and on street corners,” Vicente said.
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the action in California appears to be “more widespread than the measured approach we saw in Colorado. A lot of the businesses were nowhere near a school.”
He said that with medical marijuana rights supported by more than 80 percent of Americans, shutting down legally operating businesses “could be disastrous for President Obama’s reelection chances.
“If they are paying any attention at all, they will back off,” Smith said. He said the DOJ is “undermining state laws that are helping people get their medicine and that are very popular with voters.”
Local marijuana and civil rights attorney Rob Corry said actions like those taken by the DOJ in California “denigrate” the Department of Justice, which he said has a proud history of standing up for justice. “They should not be acting as local zoning officials, going after landlords who are in compliance with state and local laws,” he said.
(Image of dispensary: Kersgaard)