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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feds Subpoenaed San Francisco for Medical Marijuana Records

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge Busting you -- with public records. - THCFINDER.COM
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  • Busting you -- with public records.

Fifth SF Dispensary Likely To Close

It wasn't Tommy gun-toting agents who finally put Prohibition-era bad boy Al Capone behind bars on Alcatraz: it was paper-pushers from the Internal Revenue Service who busted the syphilitic mobster on tax fraud.

In this second era of Prohibition, in which non-prescription drugs (other than caffeine, nicotine, salvia, kava, etc.) have been under federal ban since 1970, it has also not been kevlar-clad drug warriors responsible for shuttering three San Francisco medical marijuana dispensaries.

It's been the city's own records.

Files from the Department of Public Health, which permits the city's two dozen -- and dropping -- cannabis dispensaries, were subpoenaed by United States Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag and used to ensure the pot clubs were closed, city officials told the Medical Cannabis Task Force.

Three San Francisco dispensaries have closed since receiving warning letters from Haag's outpost of Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department. A fourth, Sanctuary, received a letter over the Thanksgiving holiday. The feds have now requested information on yet one more dispensary, which means a fifth dispensary will probably close, city officials said.


Letters from the Justice Department -- which warned of asset forfeiture as well as prison sentences for dispensary operators and their landlords who failed to shut down within 45 days -- have forced the clubs to close. Those clubs include Medithrive in the Mission District, Mr. Nice Guy on Valencia Street, and Divinity Tree on Geary Street in the Tenderloin. Federal authorities decided that the pot clubs were too close to a school or park, despite the fact they all complied with city law, according to San Francisco records.

Those records -- in addition to certificates of compliance with city public health law -- would have included applications with the Planning Department, which states how close to a park, school, or other "child-serving facility" a dispensary is permitted. State law allows a dispensary to operate within 600 feet of a school, while stricter city laws require a 1,000-foot boundary. Federal law, however, calls for penalty enhancements for the "distribution of illegal drugs" within 1,000 feet of a park or school.

And that's why Haag is targeting these specific dispensaries, according to Jack Gillund, a spokesman for Haag, who would only provide a two-month-old statement from Haag in response to inquiries from SF Weekly. No further comment was provided.

In her statement, Haag said that the Justice Department's "limited resources" would be used to close only "illegal marijuana stores that are in close proximity to schools, parks, playgrounds, and other places where children play and learn."

Of course, in a densely populated city such as San Francisco, this broad definition winds up covering places like daycare centers or bus stops, and results in every dispensary closing down, according to Stephanie Tucker, a spokeswoman for the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force.

Lawyers with the City Attorney's Office who are handling medical cannabis-related inquiries from the Justice Department are on vacation and cannot be reached until after Christmas, according to Assistant City Attorney Virginia Dario Elizondo, who processes public records requests.

A spokesman for the City Attorney said that the office can't confirm or deny receipt of subpoenas -- legally binding demands for testimony or evidence -- from the Justice Department.

Nonetheless, a request for information on a fifth dispensary "means there's a fifth [warning] letter out there," said Tucker. Gillund declined to identify the dispensary in question.

And now local governments are wondering: If the feds are using paperwork and fees to shut down these pot dispensaries, and, in some cases, send their operators to prison, what's the point of going legal?

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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