The four U.S. Attorney’s in California have shut down at least 500 medical marijuana dispensaries in the last eight months, in what has become a growing tussle between the federal government and state leadership.
The New York Times reported that the office in the Eastern District pushed to close “dozens” of dispensaries, the Southern District has closed 217 and the Central District has shut down more than than 200. Representatives from the Northern District declined to offer any statistics. Officials from the three districts that offered numbers also told the New York Times that they had been successful in shutting down more than 90 percent of the medical marijuana dispensaries that they had identified.
But now, a California lawmaker is letting federal law enforcement know that not everyone is happy with the ramped up enforcement.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) recently sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy of the state’s Southern District, calling some crackdowns “unwarranted intimidation.”
“The Co-op operates under a strict county ordinance that mandates that the facility is inspected monthly by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and according to these inspection reports, all parties have followed the letter of law,” Filner wrote to Duffy.
The lawmaker wrote in support of My Mother Earth Co-op in El Cajon, Calif., which will likely have to close down its operation after receiving notice from Duffy’s office.
A co-op spokesperon told The San Diego Reader that this move highlights the larger issue of medical marijuana enforcement.
“Duffy is going after the landlord but this fight isn’t between the feds and our landlord, this fight is between the State of California and the Federal Government,” Bob Riedel, the spokesman, told the Reader.
Filner wrote in his letter that 13 employees would lose their jobs and 2,3000 members would no longer have access to their legal source of marijuana. The co-op is the only licensed facility in San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties, he wrote.
But not everyone is on Filner’s side of the issue. Earlier this week, several San Diego-based community groups issued a statement in support of Duffy’s aggressive enforcement of drug laws in the district.
“Pot shops invite lawbreakers to take advantage of the system,” Aaron Byzak, president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, said in the statement. ”I’m glad U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, DEA officials and local law enforcement officers are keeping a close eye on these operations, which continue to be a thorn in the side of everyone from anti-drug groups to parents.”
Duffy, speaking more broadly about medical marijuana enforcement, told the New York Times that scammers flock to medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Most often the individuals who are visiting these places have obtained sham doctor recommendations for really no purpose other than to engage in the recreational use of marijuana,” Duffy said. “To the extent that blatant distribution of marijuana is not available in commercial businesses throughout California, certainly in this district, I think that’s a good thing.”
California is one of 17 states, along with District of Columbia, that permit the use and sale of the drug.
President Barack Obama said in 2008 that the Justice Department would not commit resources to “circumvent state laws.”
But in June 2011, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo seemingly reversing the department’s hands-off stance on the industry. However, the department has said that is an incorrect reading of Cole’s statement.
More recently, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner for the Eastern District of California said “conditions on the ground changed” between 2009 and 2011, prompting the need for increased enforcement.
“It wasn’t a lack of good faith on our part,” Wagner told the Sacramento Bee earlier this month. We were alarmed by explosive growth of these large commercial operations. These huge dispensaries are focused on profits, not helping sick people.”