|The Native Angeleno
The U.S. federal government on Tuesday took action to shut down 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, where the city council recently voted to ban the cannabis access points altogether.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for Southern California sued three property owners that rent to dispensaries, raided three shops, and sent warning letters to 68 more, enforcing federal law, which doesn’t recognize the 1996 California voter initiative that legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, reports Greg Risling of the Associated Press.
Federal authorities started targeting L.A.’s pot shops almost a year ago; the city council’s own dispensary ban is being challenged in court, and could be overturned by popular vote if a referendum appears on a future ballot. The latest round of letters targets all the dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles and in the Eagle Rock neighborhood, according to an announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in L.A., reports Dennis Romero of LA Weekly.
|Los Angeles Times
|U.S. Attorney Andrew Birotte Jr.: “As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law”
Tuesday morning’s search-warrant raids were at Happy Ending Collective, 818 North Spring Street, believed to be the largest dispensary in the downtown area; Green Light Pharmacy, 522 South Lorena Street, target of a L.A. County Sheriff’s Department investigation earlier this year that determined the shop was allegedly in violation of state and federal laws; and Fountain of Wellbeing, 3835 Fountain Avenue, report LA Weekly.
“As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birotte Jr. said.
Last October, all four of California’s U.S. Attorneys pledged to crack down on the cannabis collectives, which they claimed were making huge amounts of cash and serving as fronts for drug traffickers. Marijuana proponents say the shops are protected by California’s medicinal cannabis law, which allows use of the herb with a doctor’s recommendation.
A lawsuit will be filed against the federal crackdown, according to David Welch, an attorney representing some of the dispensaries targeted in the federal crackdown.
“I expected this to happen and we have planned for this contingency,” Welch said. “The future is a lot less certain considering what seems to be a full court press by the federal government.”
Kris Hermes of medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access said Tuesday’s crackdown had come as a surprise.
“As far as we were concerned there had been little to no federal activity in the city of L.A.,” Hermes said. “This does represent an escalation in the area.
But, he said, “There have been no indications that this might be coming given the City Council’s desire to cooperate with the federal government. Federal and local officials are aware they hold the cards at [the]federal level and can do what they want whether or not people are abiding by state law.
“City officials are using that as a pretext because it takes pressure of of them,” Hermes said.
It’s been two years since L.A.’s inept city council passed an ordinance that was supposed to institute a moratorium on the opening of new dispensaries, but boilerplate language intended to protect shops whose paperwork was in process ended up allowing hundreds of new collectives to open. The moratorium was supposed to have capped the number of shops at 70.
|Hillel Aron, The Native Angeleno: “It’s worth pointing out that almost all of these dispensaries that were threatened today are in the district of Councilman Jose Huizar, the architect of the medical marijuana ban that was stopped in its tracks by a recent voter-triggered referendum”
According to city officials, more than 750 dispensaries have registered with the city and a couple hundred more unregistered shops could exist.
Most of the shops targeted by Tuesday’s warning letters are either in downtown Los Angeles or the Eagle Rock neighborhood.
“It’s worth pointing out that almost all of these dispensaries that were threatened today are in the district of Councilman Jose Huizar, the architect of the medical marijuana ban that was stopped in its tracks by a recent voter-triggered referendum,” wrote Hillel Aron in The Native Angeleno.
“Thanks to the signatures of some 50,000 people, [the]council was faced with a choice,” Aron said. “Put the matter on the ballot, or withdraw the law altogether.
“Or there’s option C: ask the feds to step in,” Aron said.
Los Angeles City Council members must decide by next week whether to call for a special election for the measure, repeal the dispensary ban themselves, or put it on the March 2013 ballot.
Even after the 50,000 signatures were turned in, Huizar told the Los Angeles Daily News‘ Rick Orlov, “We still plan to move forward with the idea that dispensaries do not have a right to exist … If there is a stay on the ordinance, we will have no law in the city allowing the dispensaries and we will enforce state and federal laws on marijuana.”
Huizar’s statement conveniently ignored the fact that medical marijuana has been legal in the state for 16 years, and dispensaries have explicitly been allowed since the Legislature clarified and expanded Prop 215 by passing SB 420 in 2003. We’ll leave it to Aron to sum it all up:
1) California voters legalize medical marijuana2) City of LA somehow manages to not craft a coherent policy to regulate pot shops for 12 years (unlike West Hollywood, Santa Monica, etc.)3) City of LA, in the face of numerous lawsuits, decides, to hell with it, we’re just gonna ban the freakin’ stuff4) Dispensary owners and their unions say, “nuh uh,” and gather signatures.5) Councilman Huizar responds, “yuh huh,” and gets the DEA to shut down (sorry, “move to” shut them down) all the shops in his district.Isn’t this a good time for some judge to step in and clear everything up? Oh wait, it’s cool, they’re taking up the issue in like three years. No probl
em.What a mess.