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Feds Target California Marijuana Dispensaries

Dispensaries in Murrieta, Wildomar and Temecula are among those expected to receive letters warning them they are in violation of federal law and subject to prosecution.

UPDATE 4:15 p.m.: In a letter to Murrieta police Chief Mike Baray, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. vowed to work together with the Murrieta Police Department to enforce against a medical marijuana dispensary operating in Murrieta.

"We have received similar requests from other municipalities throughout the Central District of California...As a result, in conjunction with federal and local law enforcement agencies, we have carefully examined the situation in Murrieta, and the problem of commercial operations in the District," wrote Birotte.

"...In addition to undertaking criminal prosecutions and other enforcement actions, this office is today sending out letters to the property owners and landlords of the marijuana stores in your city and nearby areas."

In response to the department's receipt of the letter Friday, Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad said: "As you know, this community’s safety is our No. 1 priority. We have reached out to the U.S. Attorney to assist us and they have obliged. We look forward to working with them." 

See a full copy of the letter from U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, uploaded with this article.

ORIGINAL POST:

Medical marijuana collectives throughout Southern California, including Riverside County, must shut down within 45 days or face civil and/or criminal prosecution, federal prosecutors announced today.

The warning is part of a new federal crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry, which includes huge commercial grow operations, intricate distribution systems and hundreds of retail stores in the Southland and across the state -- even though the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the sale and distribution of cannabis.

"It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law,'' U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. "While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California.''   

At a news briefing/teleconference attended by the state's four U.S. attorneys in Sacramento, Birotte said warning letters had gone out to dozens of medical marijuana retail store operators across the state.   

The typical medical marijuana dispensary sells pot solely for the purpose of recreational use, he said. "That is not what California voters intended.''   

After his inauguration, President Barack Obama said the federal government would not prosecute medical marijuana users and caregivers. In 1996, California was the first state to decriminalize marijuana for medical use, although it has remained a federal crime to possess or sell it.   

Medical marijuana advocates say the Department of Justice's newly announced stance is "harmful and unnecessary'' to patients who use the drug as part of their treatment regimen.

"Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama administration,'' said Joe Elford, a lawyer with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

"President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy.''   

Laura E. Duffy, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego, said it should be noted that illegal marijuana grow operations often found flourishing on federal land create "significant negative consequences'' and result in "a very serious public safety issue.''   

Federal prosecutors said warning letters had been sent to the operators and landlords of dozens of marijuana dispensaries in the Southland and elsewhere, and forfeiture actions were filed against properties where owners allow pot stores to operate.

Those receiving letters were warned that the stores are in violation of federal law and that they have less than two months to "take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana.''   

Birotte said all known marijuana stores in the following areas were notified: Orange County: the cities of Lake Forest, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, and Rancho Santa Margarita; Los Angeles County: cities of Pomona and Claremont; Riverside County: the cities of Murrieta, Wildomar, and Temecula; and San Bernardino County: Upland, Montclair and Chino.

The letters note that the operation of a marijuana store "may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets, including the real property on which the dispensary is operating and any money you receive (or have received) from the dispensary operator.''

CMG Outreach, a medical marijuana dispensary in Murrieta, is already facing daily fines from the city of Murrieta for being in operation despite a city ban on dispensaries.

Reached Friday, CMG co-owner Beth Burns said she'd heard the reports but had yet to receive a letter, although she was expecting one.

To her knowledge, larger operations are being targeted.

"This whole thing is a money issue," Burns said by phone Friday. "What started this whole thing was the IRS because they aren't getting any deductions.

"The medical marijuana business has been in California for 15 years."

---City News Service and Maggie Avants

Linda Cohen October 08, 2011 at 12:09 AM
Why not just decriminalize it and then we wouldn't have this problem at all. Why should this be harder to get than alcohol when alcohol is much more detrimental to the body and to society overall. Yet any person over the age of 21 can legally drink themselves into oblivion with no consequences to society at all if they manage to not get caught drunk driving and many do. Why should something that grows in the ground by regulated by the government? You know the only reason anyone cares is because the drug companies & big alcohol haven't figured out a way to make a profit from this. Why would they want people to have access to something that they could grow in their backyards, made them feel less anxious, pain relief for some, helped with appetite for cancer & aids patients and no side effects(unlike Vioxx or Celebrex to name 2 recently withdrawn prescription drugs) This is complete BS and Obama should stand by his promise but I've learned not to believe anything he says. I thought we were in the middle of this huge financial crisis so it's nice to know the President has his priorities straight.
Theresa Greenway October 08, 2011 at 06:47 AM
What's the Federal government doing sticking their nose in a State issue. Where's all the outrage by the Teabaggers of the government telling California what to do over something the state has decided is fine. Where's all the outrage over state's rights??? Oh wait, .... there's only outrage when it's a conservative issue. I'm with Linda, it should be decriminalized all together.
kevin October 08, 2011 at 08:38 AM
Linda, I sincerely doubt it's because they can't figure out a way to make a profit from it. If a 16 year old kid can figure out a way to make money off it i'm sure a corporation could too. I think the biggest reason why it hasn't been legalized is how do you regulate it as far as what's a safe level to drive. For alcohol they have the blood alcohol content. What can they use to determine if your too high to operate a motor vehicle?
LBV Collins October 08, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Hi Linda. You make some very valid points… but instead of decriminalizing it, I suggest that the Federal Government remove it from the Controlled Substances Act altogether and then let the states decide how they want to handle the issue of marijuana legalization. (I even wrote a letter to President Obama suggesting he do this as a way of “endearing” himself to the Tea Partiers and the Libertarians… by giving more power back to the states.) Also, the drug companies have figured out a way to profit from pot. It’s called Marinol… a drug that uses the active ingredient in marijuana. Doctors can prescribe it… and it costs $20 for one pill. But as you point out, marijuana grows in the ground. If I needed marijuana for a medical condition, I’d rather grow my own medicine for free than pay a drug company $20 per pill. (I doubt that makes Big Pharma happy.) As for Big Alcohol, you’re right, they don’t want marijuana legalized, either: http://www.alternet.org/story/148213/alcohol_lobby_now_openly_spending_against_ca%27s_legal_pot_initiative_in_alliance_with_police_industrial_complex
LBV Collins October 08, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Hi Kevin. They’ve already determined the unsafe levels of marijuana intoxication: “…blood test results can give a useful indicator of whether one is impaired by marijuana. Studies have shown that high THC blood levels are correlated with impaired driving. An expert panel review of scientific studies on driving under the influence of cannabis concluded that THC levels above… 3.5 - 5 ng/ml in blood indicate likely impairment. [1] The same review found no increased driving hazard at low levels of THC.” [2] 1. http://www.canorml.org/healthfacts/DUICreport.2005.pdf 2. http://www.canorml.org/healthfacts/drugtestguide/drugtestdetection.html#blood
Popeye October 08, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Did the city approve this dispensary? I think Temecula banned medical marijuana dispensaries, therefore they are illegal.
Popeye October 08, 2011 at 04:38 PM
This is a city issue. Why is the state sticking their noses in our business? I hope the federal government shuts down the illegal business.
LBV Collins October 08, 2011 at 04:45 PM
Hi Popeye. City Council passed an ordinance which “prohibits Medical Marijuana Dispensaries within all zoning districts in the City of Murrieta” back in 2005. [1] As I understand, the City feels they were misinformed that this business was a dispensary and would not have issued a business license had they known. 1. http://www3.murrieta.org/agendas/council/MG38967/AS38970/AS38983/AI39088/DO39159/1.PDF
Linda Cohen October 11, 2011 at 10:57 PM
LBV Collins-You mention Marinol but unfortunately it doesn't have the same properties that smoked marijuana has, though people would have you believe otherwise. They have been studying THC-the active ingredient in marijuana for many years in Israel. And they're still not sure how it works. We can't do any studies here because our government won't allow the scientists to grow the plants they need or give them the marijuana they need from the one farm the government has still growing it legally for the few patients they supply
LBV Collins October 12, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Hi Linda. That’s the irony of Marinol (the “legal” form of marijuana that the drug companies want to own and push): it doesn’t work as well as the weed someone can grow for free in their own backyard.
Mike C October 21, 2011 at 10:51 PM
F@$k the police period!

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