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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feds Might Stop Trying to Seize Marijuana Grow Records

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM

  • Not worth it?

While real casualties abound, by and large the U.S. Justice Department's crackdown on California's medical marijuana industry has been half-hearted.

True, about one-third of San Francisco's licensed medical marijuana dispensaries were shut down from 2011 to 2012. But more are open now, and the feds are taking no action.

And while there have been prominent raids, there have been very few prosecutions. In Mendocino County, the feds moved last fall to seize a ream of records kept by the sheriff, who doled out permits to pot gardens for a fee. And likewise, the feds' effort to seize names and addresses of growers appears to be petering out.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed in October a subpoena of all records kept by Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman pertaining to the 9.31 program, in which growers paid an inspection fee to sheriffs, who then declared pot gardens legal.

The program lasted two years and raised about $600,000 for the cash-strapped Sheriff's Department. That was before warnings of legal action from Haag to Allman and to Mendocino County officials, who approved the program, led to its demise in early 2012.

The records included names, addresses, and in some cases, GPS coordinates of every legal garden in the county. But rather than fold, Mendocino officials moved to fight the subpoena in court.

A court date scheduled for March 19 was delayed and has not been rescheduled, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal. That means that the two parties are negotiating a settlement, according to legal watchers -- which also means that the feds' original case is not airtight.

"The fact that the item has been taken off calendar can be interpreted as an indication that the federal attorney is not anxious to litigate this issue in court," wrote Supervisor John McCowen in an email Sunday, "but also that the county and the federal attorney are still talking about a possible out of court resolution of the issue."

Some point to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington as evidence that the feds have bigger fish than to fry at long last. But while feds made headlines by raiding Northstone Organics' giant garden in 2011 and then Oaksterdam University in 2012, no prosecutions have resulted. Legal watchers also raised their eyebrows at the original Haag subpoena as overly broad. It could be that the feds were never into the crackdown to begin with -- and it's finally showing.

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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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