California's U.S. Attorneys Think It's Impossible to Make Money While Helping Patients


Today California's four U.S. attorneys fleshed out their "coordinated crackdown" on medical marijuana suppliers, saying "dozens of letters have been sent over the past few days to the owners and lienholders of properties where commercial marijuana stores and grows are located." According to the Associated Press, those letters threaten the property owners with forfeiture and prosecution if they do not close down within 45 days. Contrary to explicit assurances from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. attorneys continue to insist that the forbearance promised by this administration applies only to patients, meaning that suppliers are fair game even if they comply with state law. But their press release provides some clues about how they are likely to select their targets. In describing the operations that offend them, they use the descriptor commercial eight times and refer to profit nine times (not counting two mentions of money and one of moneymaking). Demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of capitalism, not to mention the way that Americans actually obtain medicine and health care, they insist that turning a profit is inconsistent with helping patients:

Benjamin B. Wagner, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California, stated: "Large commercial operations cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves….

Laura E. Duffy, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, commented: "The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick. It's a pervasive for-profit industry…"

I guess doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and drugstores also "cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves." Didn't Adam Smith have something to say about that?

Reading between the lines, medical marijuana suppliers who want to avoid forfeiture and prosecution should do their best to avoid making any money. They also should stay as small as possible, since large and huge make four and three pejorative appearances, respectively, in the press release. And the U.S. attorneys are sticklers for arbitrary buffer zones around "schools and other locations where children congregate," so it's best to stay at least 1,000 feet from those. Still, there are no guarantees. While some medical marijuana operations are more objectionable than others, Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California reminds us that "none are immune from action by the federal government."