The U.S. Attorney for Northern California has threatened at least four San Jose area landlords last week with 40 years prison, property forfeiture and asset seizure for renting office space to lawful medical marijuana businesses.
Sources in San Jose said the letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag began showing up in mailboxes Friday, April 26. They read:
“The office has been advised that there is a marijuana dispensary … operating at the real property located at …, which property you own or have under your management control. The dispensary is operating in violation of federal law, and persons and entities who operate or facilitate the operation of such dispensaries are subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions. Since the dispensary is operating within a prohibited distance of a [Art Academy], the unlawful operation of the dispensary is subject to enhanced penalties.”
Haag then threatened the landlord with property forfeiture, forty years in prison, and asset seizure, among other penalties.
“Please take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana at the above-referenced location. … Very truly yours, Melinda Haag, United States Attorney.”
At least four landlords in San Jose received such letters, our sources say, as well as the landlord for The Hemp Center, a San Francisco dispensary with a permit from the San Francisco Planning Department.
San Francisco has permitted about 15 dispensaries. There are perhaps one hundred dispensaries open in San Jose, where citizens passed marijuana sales tax Measure U in 2010, but the City Council refuses to reasonably regulate the popular businesses. They exist in a state of local legal limbo.
California legalized marijuana for qualified patients, caregivers, and collectives in 1996 and 2003. In 2008, President Obama said prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis patients should not be a priority of the Department of Justice. In 2011, the Department of Justice clarified that marijuana businesses were still a priority – regardless if they comply with state law.
In October 2011, Haag and three other US Attorneys declared war on California’s estimated $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry, threatening hundreds of landlords with forfeiture. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state moved or closed.
Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced the crackdown, saying California didn’t need “federal gendarmes” interfering with lawful tax-paying businesses.
In January, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told a San Francisco crowd that Haag had “gone rogue.” He called the landlord threats “drone strikes”, and added “I’m sorry a house fell on her sister,” alluding to the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Last week, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called for decriminalizing, regulating, and taxing California’s decades-old, multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.
The latest polls show almost two out of three Americans believe Uncle Sam should leave state-legal marijuana alone. And about three out of four Americans agree that the estimated $7.6 billion federal war on pot each year costs more than it is worth.
The new threats this week follow a federal threats against all dispensaries open in Santa Ana, CA. last week, as well as the raid of a San Diego dispensary who had an operating agreement with the City of San Diego.
The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) denounced the threats as yet another indication of the bankruptcy of federal marijuana policy.
“Federal bureaucrats have no business butting in on local land use decisions,” said Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer. “The DOJ’s claim to be protecting school children is risible, given the closer proximity of liquor stores, sex shops, and other adult businesses to schools. It’s time for the Obama administration to stop threatening law-abiding businesses, and to start revising federal marijuana policy.”
Feds Threaten More Dispensary Landlords with 40 Years Prison