Heaven for Medical Marijuana Patients Is Hell for the DOJ


A few weeks ago, when they announced "coordinated enforcement actions" against medical marijuana dispensaries, California's four U.S. attorneys cited eight pot shops in a single Orange County strip mall as evidence that the wacky weed had run amuck. The Associated Press reports that all eight have since closed, in response to a letter from Andr√© Birotte, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, threatening the landlord with forfeiture and/or prosecution if the dispensaries continued to operate after October 21 (last Friday). A.P. says the city of Lake Forest, where the strip mall is located, sought Birotte's help because its municipal code "prohibits businesses that violate state or federal law" and the dispensaries "weren't complying with zoning enforcement actions that sought to close them down."

Lest you think the Justice Department is acting only in response to complaints from local or state officials about illegal dispensaries, Toke of the Town notes that the federal crackdown is also affecting medical marijuana suppliers in Sacramento, which licenses and taxes them (on top of the sales tax collected by the state):

The California Cannabis Association estimates that the city of Sacramento has taken in more than $2 million in taxes, permits and fees from medical marijuana dispensaries in the past year. The city's Economic Development Committee doesn't dispute that number, reports KCRA.

Each of the dispensaries had to go through a lengthy permit process of three different phases, costing more than $20,000, according to the Economic Development Department. The city also gets a four percent sales tax on dispensary profits from selling marijuana, said Maurice Chaney, representing the department. According to Chaney, 35 dispensaries are going through the permitting process….

Sacramento froze the permitting process after the federal crackdown on dispensaries in California was announced.

More generally, despite their emphasis on "large commercial operations" that "cloak their moneymaking activities in the guise of helping sick people," the feds are not making any allowance for nonprofit distribution of medical marijuana by patient collectives/cooperatives, which California's courts and governor say is permitted under state law. According to Birotte, there is no such thing as a noncommercial dispensary. "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," he said earlier this month. His colleague Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, likewise says all dispensaries are fair game, whether or not they comply with state law. So much for Attorney General Eric Holder's assurance that "the policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law."

In addition to highlighting the Obama administration's broken promise of a more tolerant medical marijuana policy, the Toke of the Town report offers a consumer's take on the horror of side-by-side dispensaries:

It was like heaven…I got treated like a queen. One of the collectives had a frequent buyer program punch card. You got a free eighth after 10 donations and a free preroll with any edible….It's going to be missed by hundreds of patients, possibly thousands….The competition was crazy. It drove down prices from 60 to 40 cap for top shelf. Every shop had a sign outside the door announcing specials. And in the middle was a head shop, which was convenient.