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Friday, August 10, 2012

Medical Marijuana: Feds Show Little Interest in San Jose, Where Dispensaries Are Illegal

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 9:15 AM

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  • Do Feds Know The Way?

Aside from strikes at the medical marijuana industry's most vocal, visible, and influential leaders, little rhyme or reason has accompanied the federal Justice Department's crackdown on California cannabis.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag offered no comment or explanation as her office shut down roughly one-third of San Francisco's licensed and taxpaying dispensaries. City officials in Berkeley and Fairfax complained that the dispensaries shuttered there were model citizens and did nothing wrong. Likewise, all San Francisco clubs shuttered enjoyed full compliance with the law, according to Health Department officials.

And until Haag's office sent an asset forfeiture notice to Harborside Health Center's location in San Jose, as well as its Oakland center of federally illegal marijuana distribution, Haag had paid scant attention to the South Bay. If she did, she might discover that all city dispensaries in San Jose have been operating in violation of city law since February.

We can understand the North and West Bay biases, but then again, we're not prosecutors.

Thus far, Justice Department officials have used only certified letters to shut down Bay Area dispensaries: seven San Francisco dispensaries have shut down after their landlords received letters warning of property seizures and stiff prison terms.

The only raid conducted during this time was the April 2 action carried out on Oaksterdam University and its founder, Richard Lee, who bankrolled the 2010 marijuana legalization measure Proposition 19.

Lee has not been charged with any crimes. No Bay Area dispensary operators have been indicted in federal court, though several have lost costly tax assessment battles with the IRS.

Haag's position on medical marijuana has evolved somewhat, though the endgame is the same.

In initial public comments about the crackdown, which began Oct. 7, 2011, Haag and other prosecutors said only dispensaries that violated state law would be shut down. When that appeared to be untrue -- no violations of state law were ever alleged against the dozen-plus dispensaries shut in the Bay Area -- Haag then said only dispensaries near children would be targeted for prosecution.

In a release sent last month following asset forfeiture proceedings filed against Harborside's landlords, Haag insinuated that since the operation was so large -- Harborside, at 108,000 patients, is the biggest dispensary on the planet -- it must be doing something wrong.

San Jose declared its dispensaries illegal in February, following suit with other cities and counties across the state fearful over a state appellate court ruling over the legality of local regulations.

"The Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance (Title 20) is suspended and not in effect. Due to the current status of the above ordinances, Medical Marijuana Collectives, Cooperatives, Dispensaries, and Delivery Service businesses are not legal uses in the City of San Jose," the city's website reads.

San Jose city officials pledge to continue "enforcement action against any collectives, cooperatives, dispensaries and delivery service businesses operating in the city," but noted that dispensaries are still expected to pay their city and state sales taxes.

Haag spokesman Jack Gillund said the office had no comment in response to SF Weekly's inquiry about the law-flouting dispensaries in San Jose.

Representatives from the Silicon Valley chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana patients' advocacy group, did not respond to e-mails or calls seeking comment. But Kris Hermes, a spokesman for ASA's national chapter, noted that some South Bay dispensaries could have been federal targets without going public.

"Facilities often close quietly when they're asked to by their landlords," Hermes wrote in an e-mail. "I have not taken a poll in [San Jose], but I would bet it reflects every other area of the state (hundreds of facilities shutting down voluntarily to avoid what is a relatively small risk of prosecution)."

That the many dispensaries advertising for business in San Jose would escape federal attention would not be surprising, either, according to Hermes.

"The actions of the federal government are clear in two respects," he wrote. "They are indiscriminate and they are meant to intimidate."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

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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