by David Downs
A San Jose dispensary operator has informed us that the federal government has begun a new round of actions against lawful medical cannabis dispensaries in the South Bay. Landlords are receiving threatening letters from US Attorney Melinda Haag, warning of forty-year-prison sentences if landlords do not evict their dispensary tenants.
Dated April 26, one letter to a San Jose landlord stated: “The office has been advised that there is a marijuana dispensary ... operating at the real property located at ..., which property you own or have under your management control. The dispensary is operating in violation of federal law, and persons and entities who operate or facilitate the operation of such dispensaries are subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions. Since the dispensary is operating within a prohibited distance of a [Art Academy], the unlawful operation of the dispensary is subject to enhanced penalties.”
“Please take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana at the above-referenced location. ... Very truly yours, Melinda Haag, United States Attorney.”
Our sources forwarded two such letters to us and wrote, “I'm sure there are more of these.”
There are perhaps one hundred dispensaries open in San Jose. Citizens passed a marijuana sales tax Measure U in 2010, but the City Council has refused to reasonably regulate the businesses. They exist in a state of local legal limbo.
California legalized marijuana for qualified patients, caregivers, and collectives in 1996 and 2003. In 2008, President Obama said prosecuting state-legal pot patients should not be a priority of the Department of Justice. In 2011, the Department of Justice stated that marijuana businesses were still a priority.
In October 2011, Haag and three other US Attorneys declared war on California's estimated $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry, threatening hundreds of landlords with forfeiture. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state moved or closed. Haag is attempting to seize Harborside Health Center in Oakland, as well as its sister club in San Jose.
Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown asked the feds to call off their crackdown, saying California didn't need “federal gendarmes” kicking in the doors of lawful businesses. In January, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told a San Francisco crowd that Haag had “gone rogue,” adding, “I'm sorry a house fell on her sister,” alluding to the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Last week, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called for decriminalizing, regulating, and taxing California's multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.
Recent polls show two out of three Americans believe Uncle Sam should leave state-legal marijuana alone. Almost three out of four Americans agree that the federal war on pot costs more than it is worth.