California Dispensaries Moving to Block U.S. Marijuana Crackdown

November 8, 2011

The New York Times on November 7, 2011 released the following:


SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for the medical marijuana industry said on Monday that they would seek court orders to halt a threatened federal crackdown on marijuana dispensaries, their landlords and marijuana growers.

In legal motions to be filed on Tuesday, marijuana distributors and some medical patients will ask federal judges in four districts to issue temporary restraining orders to prevent federal prosecutors from taking action, lawyers and a lobbyist for the industry said at a news conference here on Monday.

“The government’s irrational policy has reached a breaking point,” said Matthew Kumin, one of the lawyers. “The federal government said it will not prosecute patients, and yet they want to shut off their supply. This doesn’t make sense.”

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though its use is allowed for medical purposes in California and some other states. But federal prosecutors and drug agents say that behind the mask of meeting medical needs, much of California’s burgeoning marijuana industry is engaged in large-scale illegal sales.

In letters sent out in late September, the prosecutors warned numerous dispensaries to shut down or face serious civil or criminal charges, including possible seizure of the property of their landlords. Recipients of letters were given 45 days to halt illegal sales, a period that for many ends on Saturday.

Mr. Kumin said that if a restraining order was not quickly granted by the federal judges, he expected some dispensaries to shut down.

The courts could issue an immediate restraint, schedule hearings on whether to grant a preliminary injunction or deny the requests, which the plaintiffs argue are based on a variety of constitutional and state rights.

Tensions between California and the federal government over medical marijuana have been building since the state became the first to authorize public sales, in 1996. Now, 15 other states and the District of Columbia also allow sales of marijuana to patients with a doctor’s prescription.

A thriving industry of growers and storefront dispensaries has emerged in California that pays substantial sums in state and local taxes, but that federal drug officials see as largely illegal. The Internal Revenue Service has also started a crackdown, denying some sellers the right to deduct marijuana-related business expenses.

Asked to comment on the suits, Benjamin B. Wagner, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of California, issued this statement: “Unless and until ordered otherwise, we will continue to do our duty in enforcing federal narcotics laws.””


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