U.S. Said to Target Medical Marijuana Outlets in California

The four California U.S. attorneys offices are conducting a coordinated crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries this week, according to a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The effort is limited to California and isn’t national in scope, the official said.

“We are initiating similar communications to selected property owners in the Eastern District,” Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner in Sacramento, said in an e-mailed statement. “This particular enforcement action is targeting the property owners.”

Representatives of the U.S. attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco declined to comment. A call to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego wasn’t immediately returned.

Lynnette Shaw, the owner of Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, California, said her landlord received a letter from the Justice Department.

“It was very ominous,” Shaw said in an interview. “It informed him there was medical marijuana dispensing on his site, and that he had 45 days to evict us, or possibly face 40 years in jail, forfeiture of the property, and any money we had given him.”

Landlord, Moving

Shaw, who said she sells $1 million in medicinal cannabis a year, said she’s trying to find a way to avoid moving, without harming her landlord. She said her landlord wants to remain anonymous.

Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland, California- based Harborside Health Center, the largest marijuana dispensary in the country with $22 million in annual revenue, said he won’t close his business.

“There’s nothing that anyone can do to stop me from providing this medicine to people who need it,” DeAngelo said in an interview. “Unless they lock me up, chain me down, and put me in a box -- I will keep on doing this.”

Harborside, in operation for five years, has 94,000 registered customers and sees 600 to 800 patients a day, DeAngelo said.

A state appeals court ruled on Oct. 4 that the city of Long Beach can’t regulate and permit medical marijuana sales, rather than merely decriminalize it, because of federal laws prohibiting the possession and distribution of the drug.

California, in 1996, became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia followed, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Voters in California last year rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana for personal use, blocking efforts to expand the industry beyond medical purposes in the most populous U.S. state.

California residents consume about 1 million pounds of marijuana each year, according to the state’s tax administrator, the Board of Equalization.

To contact the reporters on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net; Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net; Ryan Flinn in San Francisco at rflinn@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net; Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net; Reg Gale at 212-617-2563 or rgale5@bloomberg.net

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