Prior to the four-alarm fire next door, the coffee shop behind the nameless awning and signless storefront at 208 Valencia St. was notable not for what was behind the white door opposite the barista -- a medical marijuana dispensary -- but for the dispensary's flouting of federal law.
Exactly how 208 Valencia Caregivers landed on U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's radar is unclear, but the notice her office mailed to the dispensary's landlord Feb. 21 was clear: Shut down the dispensary, or face property forfeiture and stiff jail sentences.
Or not. It was business as usual at the dispensary until the May 6 fire next door at Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue -- and business will continue as soon as the building can be cleaned up and electricity turned back on, according to the dispensary's Facebook page.
In addition to 208 Valencia, three other dispensaries received the same shutdown notice from Haag on the same Feb. 21 date: Vapor Room, HopeNet, and Shambhala Healing Center.
All are still open, though Vapor Room plans to close, the East Bay Express reported earlier this month. HopeNet received an eviction notice but plans to challenge it in court, and Shambhala Healing Center is also open while its landlord negotiates a settlement with its tenant.
Similar letters forced five other licensed San Francisco medical cannabis dispensaries to close since Oct. 7, 2011, when Haag and the state's three other federal prosecuters announced a coordinated crackdown on the the state's medical marijuana industry.
President Barack Obama has since been criticized for allowing the Justice Department to circumvent state law, and is being accused of being a hypocrite and flip-flopper: it was Obama who promised on the campaign trail that he'd leave medical marijuana alone, and it was Obama's Justice Department that appeared to swear off the marijuana bit of the Drug War with a 2009 memo, since repudiated.
The crackdown has provided a rallying cry and a platform for the state's cannabis advocates. But how serious is it? At least in the Bay Area, there have been no Drug Enforcement Administration raids of cannabis dispensaries (remember it was the IRS that raided Oaksterdam University, which is not a dispensary). Berkeley Patients Group closed after receiving a Haag letter, but was also struggling to pay millions in back taxes.
Haag's office filed forfeiture proceedings on dispensaries in Marin County, but has not yet done so in San Francisco.
The operators of 208 Valencia could not be reached for comment, but made a public statement that they plan to return.
"Once we do some cleanup and get back electricity we will re-open for business," reads a May 8 post on the dispensary's Facebook page. "When we get more information we will gladly share it with you. Thank you for your concern and continued patronage."
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