1. Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.

Federal Government Threatening California Dispenseries

  1. CaptainTripps
    Feds target Calif. pot dispensaries for closure

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal prosecutors have launched a crackdown on some pot dispensaries in California, warning the stores that they must shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property even if they are operating legally under the state's 15-year-old medical marijuana law.

    [IMGL=white]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=22638&stc=1&d=1317957574[/IMGL]In an escalation of the ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and the nation's burgeoning medical marijuana industry, at least 16 pot shops or their landlords received letters this week stating they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in California. The state's four U.S. attorneys were scheduled Friday to announce a broader coordinated crackdown.

    Their offices refused Thursday to confirm the closure orders. The Associated Press obtained copies of the letters that a prosecutor sent to at least 12 San Diego dispensaries. They state that federal law "takes precedence over state law and applies regardless of the particular uses for which a dispensary is selling and distributing marijuana."

    "Under United States law, a dispensary's operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions," according to the letters signed by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in San Diego. "Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States ... regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary."

    The move comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana. For two years before that, federal officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.

    The Department of Justice issued a policy memo to federal prosecutors in late June stating that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. The effort to shutter California dispensaries appeared to be the most far-reaching effort so far to put that guidance into action.

    "This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The administration is simply making good on multiple threats issued since President Obama took office," said Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the president's drug czar and a fellow at The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Substance Abuse Solutions. "The challenge is to balance the scarcity of law enforcement resources and the sanctity of this country's medication approval process. It seems like the administration is simply making good on multiple statements made previously to appropriately strike that balance."

    Greg Anton, a lawyer who represents dispensary Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, said its landlord received an "extremely threatening" letter Wednesday invoking a federal law that imposes additional penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.

    The landlord was ordered to evict the 14-year-old pot club or risk imprisonment, plus forfeiture of the property and all the rent he has collected while the dispensary has been in business, Anton said.
    Marin Alliance's founder "has been paying state and federal taxes for 14 years, and they have cashed all the checks," he said. "All I hear from Obama is whining about his budget, but he has money to do this which will actually reduce revenues."

    Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Acess, said the warnings are part of what appears to be an attempt by the Obama administration to curb medical marijuana on multiple fronts and through multiple agencies. A series of dispensary raids in Montana, for example, involved agents from not only the FBI and U.S Drug Enforcement Agency, but the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency.

    Going after property owners is not a new tactic though, Hermes said. Five years ago, the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush made similar threats to about 300 Los Angeles-area landlords who were renting space to medical marijuana outlets, some of whom were eventually evicted or closed their doors voluntarily, he said.

    "It did have an impact. However, the federal government never acted on its threats, never prosecuted anybody, never even went to court to begin prosecutions," Hermes said. "By and large, they were empty threats, but they relied on them and the cost of postage to shut down as many facilities as they could without having to engage in criminal enforcement activity."

    Besides the dozen dispensaries in San Diego and the one in Marin County, at least three shops in San Francisco already have received closure notices, said Dale Gieringer director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    The San Diego medical marijuana outlets put on notice were the same 12 that city officials sued last month for operating illegally, after activists there threatened to force an election on a zoning plan adopted to regulate the city's fast-growing medical marijuana industry, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. A judge on Wednesday ordered nine of the targeted shops to close, while the other three shut down voluntarily, Goldsmith said.
    Duffy, the U.S. attorney for far Southern California, planned to issue warning letters to property owners and all of the 180 or so dispensaries that have proliferated in San Diego in the absence of compromise regulations, according to Goldsmith.

    "The real power is with the federal government," he said. "They have the asset forfeiture, and that means either the federal government will own a lot of property or these landlords will evict a lot of dispensaries."

    LISA LEFF, Associated Press

    Updated 05:31 p.m., Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Feds-target-Calif-pot-dispensaries-for-closure-2206042.php


  1. molly
  2. CaptainTripps
    Feds announce Calif. pot dispensary crackdown

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. —
    Federal authorities in California vowed to shut down dozens of pot growing and sales operations in a major crackdown, saying the worst offenders are using the cover of medical marijuana to act as storefront drug dealers.

    The aggressive crackdown comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana.
    Prosecutors Friday described it as the first coordinated statewide offensive against marijuana dealers and suppliers who use California's 15-year-old medical marijuana law as legal cover for running sophisticated drug trafficking ventures in plain sight.

    U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner cited a 2009 federal study that 72 percent of marijuana plants eradicated nationwide were grown in California.
    "California's marijuana industry supplies the nation," he said.

    The actions were geared toward stopping a proliferation that has led to thousands of pot shops opening their doors across the state. The spread was fueled partly by the Obama administration's assurance two years ago that it did not plan to devote federal resources to countering marijuana outlets operating in compliance with state laws.

    One example cited by the prosecutors Friday: In one Orange County strip mall, eight of the 11 second-floor suites are occupied by dispensaries and doctors' offices for doctors where healthy individuals obtain "sham" recommendations to use medical marijuana.

    It is "a Costco, Walmart-type model that we see across California," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney in the Los Angeles-area. Some people making money from medical marijuana openly revel in what some have called "the new California gold rush," he said.

    Landlords leasing property to dozens of warehouses and agricultural parcels where marijuana is being grown and retail spaces where pot is sold over the counter are receiving written warnings to evict their tenants or face criminal charges or seizure of their assets, the state's four U.S. attorneys said.

    "The intention regarding medical marijuana under California state law was to allow marijuana to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the top federal law enforcement officer for the San Francisco Bay area. "What we are finding, however, is that California's laws have been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich and don't care at all about sick people."

    For two years before the federal government's toughened stand, officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.

    The Department of Justice issued a policy memo to federal prosecutors in late June stating that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. The effort to shutter California dispensaries appeared to be the most far-reaching effort so far to put that guidance into action.

    Increased federal intervention will likely unify marijuana growers and sellers in a drive to change federal policy, National Cannabis Industry Association spokeswoman Melissa Milam said.

    "We're not going anywhere. We're mothers, we're patients, we're family members of patients," she said. "We want to pay taxes, we want to be able to make deposits at our bank, we want to be a business."
    Not all of the thousands of storefront pot dispensaries thought to be operating in the state are being targeted in the crackdown, which also involves new indictments and arrests of marijuana growers and vendors throughout the state over the past two weeks, said Wagner, who represents the state's Central Valley.

    The strategies federal authorities are using vary somewhat, with warning letters issued by the U.S. attorney in San Diego giving recipients 45 days to comply and property owners in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Central Coast given just two weeks to evict pot dispensaries or growers.
    Haag said she is initially going after pot shops located close to schools, parks, sports fields and other places where there are a lot of children.
    Wagner, who represents the state's Central Valley, also is targeting what he termed "significant commercial operations," including farmland where marijuana is being grown. Birotte is prioritizing dispensaries in communities where local officials have been trying unsuccessfully to shut down marijuana businesses.

    Moreover, the four said their warnings were aimed at cities and counties that have started licensing and taxing marijuana shops.
    The California Board of Equalization has estimated medical marijuana generates between $53 million and $104 million in annual sales taxes on sales of between $700 million and $1.3 billion.

    "If it creates revenue and jobs and increases safety, with all that's going on in the world and the nation, why is the federal government mounting this assault - just because they can?" asked attorney Mark Reichel, who represents three licensed Sacramento dispensaries that face federal charges or civil forfeitures.

    More than a dozen dispensaries named by officials either did not respond to telephone messages or refused to comment on the closure demands. Damian Nassiri, a lawyer for two of dispensaries inside the Orange County shopping center authorities cited, predicting it would not be long before the owner sends his clients packing.

    "These collectives had a hard time finding landlords who were willing to rent to them," Nassiri said.
    Three of the four prosecutors declined to reveal how many dispensaries are subject to closure orders. Birotte said 38 property owners in his district were sent warnings.

    Birotte said his office already had initiated property forfeiture proceedings involving three properties whose owners had received prior warnings.
    The effort was criticized by two Democrat state legislators who represent San Francisco.
    Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said the crackdown "means that Obama's medical marijuana policies are worse than Bush and Clinton. It's a tragic return to failed policies that will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives."

    "I don't understand the politics of it, and certainly if we haven't learned anything over the past century, it's that Prohibition does not work," added State Sen. Mark Leno, who has worked to safeguard and regulate medical marijuana in California.

    Wagner said individual U.S. attorneys general in other states including Nevada, Oregon and Washington state have also coordinated actions with the U.S. Department of Justice.
    Associated Press
    Originally published Friday, October 7, 2011 at 11:59 AM

  3. talltom
    More on the crackdown of large California dispensaries--is it Arizona's fault?

    Late last week US attorneys announced a crackdown on the “large, for-profit medical marijuana industry” in California.

    The attorneys sent] letters of warning to landlords and lien holders of places in which marijuana is being sold illegally, “civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity” and numerous criminal cases. The latter refers to arrests in recent weeks related to cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno, all part of an effort that [US attorney Benjamin] Wagner claimed has resulted in the seizure of hundreds of pounds of marijuana, tens of thousands of plants and hundreds of thousands in cash.

    In 1996, California became the first state in the US to legalize medical marijuana, and since then, dispensaries and growing operations have multiplied and prospered in California. In a domino effect, 15 states– including Arizona– have followed suit and created boutique laws regulating the sale, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana, AND cities and counties have created lower tiers of regulations to control where dispensaries and growing operations can be located and who can grow their own marijuana.

    Even with layers upon layers of legislation, the bureaucrats and politicians have not been able to really control the spread of marijuana use. According to US government statistics, 16.7 million Americans 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the previous month (2009 data). Marijuana is believed to be the most widely used illegal “drug” in the US.

    A poll released in August 2011 revealed that 55% of Americans support full legalization of marijuana– with Democrats (63%-33%) and Independents (61%-34%) favoring marijuana legalization and most Republicans (46%-56%) oppose the change. An ABC News poll from 2010 showed 81% of Americans support medical marijuana. Many states, counties, and cities have decriminalized possession of small amounts of mariju

    With such widespread use of marijuana, majority support for legalization, and a burgeoning industry: What’s the big deal? Why are the feds cracking down now, when they have allowed this industry to grow and spread for 15 years? Because they’re making money. Legislation in California, Arizona, and other states dictates that medical marijuana should be a nonprofit industry. (What’s up with that? Aren’t we a country of capitalists?)

    Pot shops around Southern California have been raided, including a growing operations in Riverside County. In Orange County, federal agents moved to seize a property in a forfeiture action on Thursday, and Drug Enforcement Agents raided several shops in San Diego County.

    Federal agents announced Friday that medical marijuana shops operating outside of state law must close within 45 days or face civil and/or criminal prosecution.

    “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,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said yesterday.

    Warning letters have been mailed to dozens of pot shops and landlords that have been targeted.

    Marijuana advocates said it was waste of federal resources.

    A year or more ago, as many as 1,000 pot shop were in business in and around Los Angeles as confusion reigned over state and local laws regulating marijuana.

    Back to my question: Why crack down now? My personal theory is that this is all Governor Jan Brewer’s and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s fault. Arizona voters legalized medical marijuana in 2010– much to the chagrin of our Nanny State government. Since that passage, the state, county, and city governments in Arizona have thrown up dozens of roadblocks to implementation (ie, strict local zoning laws for dispensaries and growers, licensing fees*, a steep $130 annual fee* for medical marijuana cards, physician referrals, etc.)

    The biggest roadblock Horne and Brewer could come up with was a full-on legal challenge to the federal government (something Arizona relishes). Horne and Brewer are asking the feds to clarify the question of legality. How can medical marijuana be legal, when marijuana is illegal? Can state employees be arrested for participating in the distribution of marijuana? Even though 1000s of Arizonans have jumped through the hurdles, paid the annual fee, and now hold a medical marijuana cards, Horne has halted implementation of the law until he receives a ruling from the federal government.

    The federal government’s stance on medical marijuana is untenable. In some ways, the policy of looking the other way while marijuana use proliferates is like the government’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. “Hide your sexuality, and we won’t prosecute you.” “Hide that joint, and we’ll pretend you’re not smoking pot.”

    US attorneys are challenging and shutting down a well-established, wide-spread, successful industry in because distributors are making money– not unlike the German brewers who were targeted by the temperance movement. Except for the temporary prohibition of alcohol– which led to widespread illegal use– what other product or industry has been persecuted like this? The sale of other mood-altering and sometimes-addictive drugs– pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and tobacco– is legal in the US and those industries do not have nonprofit status forced upon them. Why marijuana?

    Maybe the time has come for legalization. I believe that the US attorneys are forcing a lawsuit (or multiple lawsuits) by cracking down on the country’s largest medical marijuana businesses. The patchwork of marijuana laws across the US is silly and inefficient, and the nonprofit requirements for medical marijuana are contrary to the country’s pro-business, for-profit underpinnings.

    Many progressives have been disgruntled with President Obama’s conciliatory behavior toward Congressional conservatives; they feel that he has too often given in or compromised too early. Obama’s administration is not without progressive milestones. He increased the minimum wage, passed landmark healthcare reform, passed banking reform, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, extended unemployment benefits, funded 1000s of teacher salaries and other public jobs when the states went broke, caught Osama bin Laden, tried to pass the DREAM Act, and continues to try to protect social safety net programs from Republican raids. What if he brought home the big kahuna– legalization of marijuana?

    One of the reasons President Roosevelt and progressives repealed the prohibition was that the country needed that tax revenue from the sale of alcohol; our country could use the tax revenue from the sale of legal marijuana now. For this reason, some economists have predicted that legalization of marijuana is inevitable. Tom Horne and Jan Brewer may have pushed this issue forward.

    *P.S. The 1000s of medical marijuana cardholders who have paid $130 for a card and the dozens of businesses who have rented space and paid state fees and have been prohibited from conducting legal business by Horne’s political lawsuit should sue the state.

    Pamela Powers
    Tucson Citizen
    Oct. 11, 2011

  4. Mick Mouse
    It was my understanding that the "crack-down" in California is targeting those businesses that are either not in compliance with the local regulations or that are operating either under or non-regulated businesses. These things include such items as selling/growing MMJ within 1000 feet of a school zone, etc.

    There are many more businesses that are not in danger than there are actually being targeted, from what I have been able to see, and it is only the ones who will not comply or have consistently refused to comply with state or local regulations that are in danger.

    Is this a correct assessment?

    We here in Colorado are closely watching this, but the general consensus is that we have nothing to worry about, because the businesses here are among the most heavily regulated in the country and in the industry.
  5. talltom
    The Beginning of the End for Medical Marijuana? Raids Back Up Warnings

    Putting some law enforcement muscle behind last week's words of warning from federal prosecutors that a new crackdown on medical marijuana distribution was getting underway, DEA agents this week raided a model regulated medical marijuana grow in Northern California, a medical marijuana dispensary in Southern California, and a medical marijuana grow in Colorado.

    "The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick," claimed Laura Duffy, the San Diego-based US Attorney at the October 8 Sacramento press conference. "It's a pervasive, for-profit industry that violates federal law."

    But the operation raided Thursday, Northstone Organics in Mendocino County, has been touted as a model medical marijuana grow. It holds a Mendocino County sheriff's permit to grow the 99 pot plants seized and destroyed by the feds, pays an estimated $8,500 annually in fees to remain compliant, and has even had sheriff's deputies testify favorably about it in a state court case where Northstone drivers delivering medicine to patients were arrested in Sonoma County.

    Northstone Organics founder and owner Matt Cohen told the Ukiah Daily News Friday that heavily-armed agents raided his home and property early Thursday morning, destroying plants and hauling off evidence, but not charging him with a crime.

    "They destroyed our home and eradicated everything," Cohen said. "They came in, guns blazing. They calmed down and were pleasant at the end, but they came in with machine guns."

    Cohen said the smash and grab raiders included six DEA agents, a state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent, and a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy, "who didn't know what he was walking into here."

    Northstone is a strict cooperative, growing the plants it distributes to members in the area, as well as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is fully compliant with California's medical marijuana laws.

    "If we're not legal, nobody's legal," Cohen said. "We actually are a legitimate not-for-profit corporation. We worked with the county to get where we are, and there are illegal growers all around us. We fell under what the US Justice Department said was the threshold for prosecution."

    The message the feds are sending? "Go back underground, I guess; make our community a less safe place to be," Cohen said.

    The Northstone Organics raid was "shameful and despicable," said Dale Gieringer of Cal NORML, which reported the raid as it was still going on Thursday morning. "The DEA is doing nothing but encouraging lawlessness and disobedience to the law, said Gieringer."This is a victory for the Mexican cartels."

    A day earlier and several hundred miles to the south, DEA agents and Pomona police raided the Green Cross USA dispensary, seizing marijuana, marijuana edibles, and records. But unlike the Northstone Organics raid, the raid on Green Cross appears to have been instigated by local authorities, who called in the feds to help.

    Pomona Police Capt. Paul Capraro told the Daily Bulletin that the dispensary owner and landlord had received threat letters from the US Attorney's office. The letters said "if they didn't close down they would be subject to criminal prosecution, civil prosecution, and property seizure," he said.

    Pomona banned dispensaries with a March 2008 ordinance, and had cited the dispensary in March for operating without a business permit. The owner, Jeffrey Maul, was convicted of operating without a business license, but is appealing that conviction.

    The joint city-DEA action sends a message to other dispensaries in Pomona, Capraro said. "Our message is simple, that dispensaries are not lawful businesses in Pomona."

    But it's not just a local case, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen. "We seized contraband, but also gathered evidence for the ongoing investigation," she said, adding that arrests could be forthcoming and that the city and the DEA had worked together for months on the case.

    Meanwhile, in Colorado, what originated as a local law enforcement raid against a medical marijuana grower who contracted to grow as part of a larger grow at Cherry Top Farms in Denver morphed during the day into a joint local-state-federal raid replete with carloads of DEA agents and US Attorney representatives.

    "We are 100% compliant" with state medical marijuana laws, a Cherry Top Farms manager told Westword after the raid. "But when the feds walk in, they can do whatever the hell they want." Local police had issues with the contract grower who was the original target of the raid, the manager said. "They came to take care of him, but when they got here, they were unable to turn a blind eye, and they did a lot of damage," he complained.

    When the first officers showed up late Thursday morning, "it was the Denver Police Department, and then it was the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Then there were the feds. When they got here, they decided they needed a search warrant for us, too," the manager explained. "They lined us all up and questioned us and took our phones and [state mandated ID] badges. Then they gave some of the option to leave, after they handed over their IDs. But a few of chose to stay, and we were forced to wait in a two-parking space area, probably 10 feet by 10 feet, from 11:00am to 11:00pm. They did let us go to the bathroom, but you definitely had to ask permission to take a piss."

    The raiders cleaned out Cherry Top, the manager said. "They took all of our live plants, all of our medicine, all of our extracts, and all of our baked goods," plus at least one more thing. "We have these cute t-shirts, little tank-top titty shirts, and one of the female officers put one on and was dancing around. I said to one of the agents at the door, 'I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but that doesn't seem to be very professional.' And he said, 'It's been a long day. We're just trying to have some fun.'"

    The t-shirt has vanished, the manager said. "It's not here. She took it."

    After last week's threats from prosecutors in Sacramento, it now appears that the feds are backing up those threats with actions. The medical marijuana wars are heating up again.

    Phillip Smith
    Drug War Chronicle
    October 17, 2011

  6. Mick Mouse
    There was a bit more to the situation that occurred here in Colorado than was covered in this article, and I would suggest that any members interested in this thread also check out the articles in the Denver Post regarding this matter. In brief, the operation here was well in excess of the allowable limit of plants (they had around 2000 plants) and had been raided and told to cease operations quite recently. In fact, the owners of the parent operation began to re-start their operation immediately after the first raid! In essence, they rubbed it in the faces of the Feds, which was not a smart move. They also were accused of diverting the product into the illegal market and moving product into other states.

    Unfortunately, what happened to the Northstone Organics co-op was, and is, a disgrace. Perhaps they were meant to serve as an example-if this can happen to an operation that is in full compliance, it can happen to anyone. Personally, I rather suspect that this was the case.

    Here in Colorado, the MMJ industry has just joined the unions (local 7), who say that they will stand up and defend them. So, Obama will not be taking on only legit businesses anymore, but the national unions as well! They are traditionally a power-base for the Democrats, and it will be interesting to see if Obama and his party will alienate some of the people that he needs the most at a time where he needs them desperately ( an election year).

    Its time that the individual states re-assert themselves and their rights, and put a stop to the run-a-way Federal grab for more and more power. We fought a bloody war over these very same issues in 1860. Maybe we need to do that again.

    Start the 3rd American revolution!
  7. talltom
    Now they are even going after ads for MMJ--four years for running an ad, first offense.

    Feds to Target Newspapers, Radio Stations That Run Marijuana Ads

    A E. Duffy, whose district includes Imperial and San Diego counties, said marijuana advertising is the next area she's "going to be moving onto as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California." Duffy said she could not speak for the three other U.S. attorneys covering the state, but noted their efforts have been coordinated so far.

    This month, U.S. attorneys representing four districts in California announced that the government would single out landlords and property owners who rent buildings or land where dispensaries sell or cultivators grow marijuana. Now, newspapers and other media outlets could be next.

    "I'm not just seeing print advertising," Duffy said in an interview with California Watch and KQED. "I'm actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It's gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we're sending to our children – it's against the law."

    Federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs, including marijuana, in "any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication." The law could conceivably extend to online ads; the U.S. Department of Justice recently extracted a $500 million settlement from Google for selling illegal ads linking to online Canadian pharmacies.

    Duffy said her effort against TV, radio or print outlets would first include "going after these folks with ... notification that they are in violation of federal law." She noted that she also has the power to seize property or prosecute in civil and criminal court.

    The San Francisco Bay Guardian is one one of many alternative weekly newspapers that runs dozens of ads for medical marijuana.

    William G. Panzer, an attorney who specializes in marijuana defense cases, said publishers may have a reason to worry. Federal law singles out anyone who "places" an illegal ad in a newspaper or publication. Nevertheless, Panzer said he is not aware of a single appellate case dealing with this section of the law.

    "Technically, if I'm running the newspaper and somebody gives me money and says, 'Here's the ad,' I'm the one who is physically putting the ad in my newspaper," he said. "I think this could be brought against the actual newspaper. Certainly, it's arguable, but the statute is not entirely clear on that."

    Panzer said the penalty for a first offense is a maximum four years in prison and eight years for someone with a prior felony conviction. In the federal law, an exception is made for ads that advocate the use of illegal drugs but don't explicitly offer them for sale or distribution. Newspapers, Panzer said, could argue that they have a right under the First Amendment to run the ads, and any "prior restraint" before publication is itself illegal.

    Duffy said she believes the law gives her the right to prosecute newspaper publishers or TV station owners.

    "If I own a newspaper ... or I own a TV station, and I'm going to take in your money to place these ads, I'm the person who is placing these ads," Duffy said. "I am willing to read (the law) expansively and if a court wants to more narrowly define it, that would be up to the court."

    Seven states, including California, allow for medical marijuana to be distributed in dispensaries, though more than 200 California cities and nearly two dozen counties have bans or moratoriums in place on storefront pot businesses. The industry has otherwise exploded in recent years, including a marked increase in delivery services.

    Ngaio Bealum, publisher of West Coast Cannabis, described as "the Sunset magazine of weed," said he receives a significant portion of his revenue from dispensary ads, though he has tough competition from alternative newspapers and even The Sacramento Bee, which began running print advertisements for dispensaries this year.

    Bealum said it was "misguided for the Department of Justice to come after people who are following state law and doing well for the economy in a recession." He disputed the notion that marijuana ads target children.

    "We're just in doctor's offices and cannabis collectives, where you have to be 18 years old or where you have to be a patient," he said. "We're not targeting anyone but cannabis patients."

    Duffy said Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, passed by California voters in 1996 has transformed from an effort to supply marijuana to sick people through nonprofit groups into a profit-making industry. She said the advertising is part of that – and "it's illegal.

    Duffy said she's seen marijuana stores advertise coupons, bring-a-friend deals, extra samples for buying a certain amount of marijuana, magazines devoted entirely to the industry, T-shirts for sale, marijuana linked to video games – all things, she said, "in large part directed at our youth and children."

    "The good intentions behind that law," she said, "have almost completely been taken over by people who are trying to use that permission law to get rich, to distribute marijuana and traffic drugs to people who aren't sick, to our youth and to people who are using drugs on a recreational basis."

    It's clear that alternative newspapers throughout the state have benefited from the increased business, even as other advertising sources have dwindled.

    In April, the Sacramento News & Review published a special supplement devoted exclusively to marijuana dispensaries. "This year’s edition includes more than 100 regional medical-cannabis dispensaries, physicians, and med-delivery and hydroponics shops for the 2011 Green Pages," the newspaper wrote. Marijuana dispensary ads, which have in the past cost $2,000 for a full page, allowed the News & Review to hire additional reporters.

    "I don’t see how the News & Review running medical-marijuana ads is any different from TV stations running massive amounts of commercials for pharmaceutical companies selling drugs," Jeff vonKaenel, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review, wrote in a May 2010 column about the advertising.

    In an interview about Duffy's statement, von Kaenel said he was "stunned by that interpretation of the First Amendment." He said his publications "receive quite a bit of revenue from (dispensaries) and it would have a detrimental impact" if he was forced to stop publishing the ads.

    Panzer said he doesn't think the federal government can effectively shut down the marijuana industry, even if it makes short-term gains by targeting high-profile dispensaries and newspapers. Given the government's lack of resources and the huge size of the marijuana industry, Panzer said officials' efforts are "a losing proposition."

    "The government is trying to put the genie back in the bottle," Panzer said. Circumventing the law on advertising the sale of illegal drugs can bring expensive consequences. In August, Google agreed to pay a $500 million settlement for accepting illegal advertisements from online Canadian pharmacies. Employees of the company had been working with pharmacies to bypass Google's own internal controls, even as Google executives testified before Congress, claiming the company had clamped down on the illegal ads.

    The fine was one of the largest ever from a U.S. company. At the time of the settlement, Google said in a statement that "it's obvious with hindsight that we shouldn't have allowed these ads on Google in the first place."

    California is not the only state struggling with the issue of marijuana ads. In Colorado, the city of Boulder recently voted to ban medical marijuana ads that target young people or recreational users. Now, the city clerk will decide if the tone of the ads crosses the line.

    The federal government's recent crackdown on the marijuana industry coincides with a February 2011 memorandum written by the state’s four top federal prosecutors, outlining a uniform approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws in California. The document, reviewed by California Watch, places an emphasis on federal investigations that target “leaders and organizers of the criminal activity as opposed to lower-level workers.”

    The memorandum sets thresholds that make investigations more likely to be prosecuted. Those include distributors caught with at least 200 kilograms of marijuana, including distribution near schools, playgrounds and colleges; cultivators with gardens of at least 1,000 plants that are not on federal land and at least 500 plants on federal or tribal land or where there is significant damage; and dispensaries that sell more than 200 kilograms or 1,000 plants annually.

    Michael Montgomery
    KQED California Report
    October 12, 2011

  8. Mick Mouse
    It seems like this A. E. Duffy is really leaning heavily on the "saving our poor children" card! They always break out the "danger to children" aspect when they don't have any other leg to stand on.

    Like the attorney William Panzer says in the above article-the genie is out of the bottle! It will not go back very easily, if at all, in my opinion.
  9. imme
    It disturbs me that they are talking about banning ads for MMJ at the exact same time that Florida banned all ads for pain clinics in newspapers. My girlfriend who's lived in Florida for many years, used to tell me about and read to me some of the many advertisements for pain clinics. Being naive I told her they couldn't possibly be all real pain clinics and that they must really be advertising for massage or chiropractic, etc.

    Now all the ads in newspapers are gone. Vanished, poof! (Turns out that they were indeed ads for real pain clinics. Some were legit and some were not, ie; the "pill mills".)

    Again, it's the timing that disturbs me. Why now? As Toxinreleased said they are using the "save the children" from the deadly opioids as a reason to banish the ads in Florida, and also banish the clinics. A mayor said they want to get rid of every single pain clinic in their town. It's not at all unusual to hear or read this type of statement in the local papers or on the local TV news stations in Florida.

    How does Obama expect to get re-elected? Where is he getting his information and input, for him to decide to up the ante for the war on drugs again? Maybe he doesn't want to be re-elected?

    I also find the Union backing interesting. I like that they decided to stand behind Occupy Wall Street and now they are going to stand behind this too? Yea, Unions!

To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!