Feds Clarify That They're Not Targeting All Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Just the Illegal For-Profit Kind
California's U.S. Attorneys held a press conference today to formally announce their crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in the state and to unveil the actions they were taking against dozens of dispensaries — including several in North Hollywood and Orange County.
It appeared that Barack Obama's administration would be softer on medical marijuana than his predecessor, but in recent weeks the administration has been toughening its stance on medical marijuana. Recently, it issued a letter saying that medical marijuana users aren't allowed to own guns under federal law. Banks in Colorado have also stopped handling money from dispensaries and the IRS has been asking dispensaries to pay money in back taxes, according to the Los Angeles Times. All of these changes hinted at the dramatic change that was announced in today's press conference.
Today California's four U.S. attorneys in Sacramento said they were aiming to take down large-scale growers — the Wal-Marts and Costco's of the pot world — that rake in millions of dollars. They said they were not trying to prosecute dispensaries that were operating legally under state law.
"It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law," said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr., in a statement. "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."
But then Birotte seemed to imply at a press conference today that just about every dispensary could be at risk: "We have yet to find a single instance in which a marijuana store was able to prove that it was a not-for-profit organization."
Some of the locations that are being targeted include a building in South Orange County that houses eight marijuana clinics and a trafficking ring that sold pot out of a San Fernando Valley dispensary, sending the drug to customers across the country, according to the Associated Press.
Critics of the move, including Sen. Mark Leno from the Bay Area, said that this crackdown is a waste of law enforcement resources that does nothing to clarify the conflicting federal and state approaches to marijuana, which is still considered a "controlled substance."
"They're wasting money they don't have," Leno told the Times. "This is not the issue of the day. This doesn't create jobs. This does not keep the security of the nation intact. It doesn't clean the environment."
He added: "If anything, [the Obama administration] should be demonstrating leadership in resolving the conflict between federal and state laws," he said. "Until we deal with that, we're going to be going around in circles here."