Posts Tagged ‘federal government’
by Gia Magnoli, Noozhawk
Under forfeiture laws, property owners may face loss of properties where storefront and growing operations are located.
In their stepped-up battle against local marijuana dispensaries and growing operations that supply them, federal authorities are employing a powerful weapon: asset-forfeiture laws.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office this week filed legal complaints for forfeiture against the property owners of two South Coast medical marijuana storefront dispensaries and one indoor farm. They allege that the owners should have known what the buildings were used for — growing and/or selling marijuana, which the government considers illegal under both federal and California law, even if the marijuana is considered medicinal.
Citing past testimony that points to each establishment selling and/or buying marijuana products and making a profit off it, the properties were allegedly used to facilitate law violations and are subject to U.S. forfeiture laws, according to the complaints, signed April 20 by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
The cases will go through U.S. Central District Court.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police raided the Pacific Coast Collective on Milpas Street and an indoor farm on Haley Street this week, and filed the forfeiture complaints and sent out enforcement letters to known marijuana-related operation in Santa Barbara County, authorities said.
No arrests were made.
The letters were very similar to those sent out in October, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The letters warn property owners that their buildings are being used by marijuana dispensaries, which violates federal law, and both the property and rent paid by the dispensary operator could be seized.
“Please take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana at the above-referenced location within 14 days of this letter,” an October sample letter states.
Regardless of local laws, federal law — which doesn’t recognize medical marijuana — takes precedent, the letter states.
“Accordingly, it is not a defense to either the referenced crime or to the forfeiture of property that the dispensary is providing ‘medical marijuana,’” the letter says. “Even under these circumstances, an owner of real property with knowledge or reason to know of illegal marijuana distribution occurring on real property that he owns or controls may have his interest in the property forfeited to the government without compensation.”
Santa Barbara County has banned dispensaries while the City of Santa Barbara has an ordinance allowing up to four medical marijuana storefront dispensaries on the condition that they abide by strict operational standards and state law.
But state law regarding the dispensaries has been fuzzy, even with then-Attorney General Jerry Brown’s guidelines that left the door open for not-for-profit storefront collectives for qualified patients (with doctors recommendations).
The city’s permitted storefronts, including Pacific Coast Collective, sell marijuana to their members and have paid employees, but local court cases have shown the legality of an establishment often hinges on the amount of money coming in (covering overhead is acceptable) and where the product comes from.
According to the legal complaint, the Pacific Coast Collective at 331 N. Milpas St. is leased from property owner Matilija Investment Property LLC, with principals Jeffrey Becker of Ventura and William Jonker of Ojai. It’s managed by The Becker Group Inc. of Ventura.
The property was used as a “marijuana store” that distributed marijuana to its customers and accepted money for it in this type of business since at least 2008, the complaint alleges.
The storefront collective claims to be a medical marijuana dispensary abiding byProposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, but the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office think otherwise.
Search warrants were served there in 2008 — when it was still Pacific Greens and owner David Najera was later convicted of drug-related charges — and 2010, when operator Charles Jeffrey Restivo was arrested and charged with felony cultivation and possession for sale of marijuana, according to the complaint.
Pacific Coast Collective was raided by the DEA and Santa Barbara police a third time on Wednesday, but no arrests were made. The establishment is one of four permitted by the City of Santa Barbara, but those permits are zoning-related and are conditional on the storefronts following state law.
The city sent cease-and-desist letters to the establishment, and Becker Group was sent a copy, and ordinance violation letters in 2008 and 2009. A police detective called Jeffrey Becker of Becker Group in 2010 and told him about the search warrants and resulting arrests, so the owner knew or should have known the property was utilized for illegal purposes, the complaint states.
Diane Norman is the property owner of 2173 Ortega Hill Road in Summerland and the operator of the Miramar Collective at that location. She has pleaded guilty to felony possession of concentrated cannabis as a result of a February 2010 raid, during which authorities found plants, packaged marijuana for sale and price sheets.
She told authorities at the time that her establishment sold plants, marijuana and edible products to members and she bought product from vendors and growers. Miramar Collective started making a profit in January 2010, according to the complaint.
Norman’s other business is the French Market antique store at the same property, and she said in a 2009 newspaper interview that she was trying to open dispensaries in the Santa Ynez Valley or elsewhere in the North County.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota, who is assigned to most of the dispensary-related cases, said the federal government’s move to take property will likely have a chilling effect, with fewer landlords willing to rent to dispensaries.
“I wouldn’t want to lose a commercial property in Santa Barbara,” he said.
The 305 E. Haley St. property, which allegedly was used as an indoor marijuana grow by renter Steven Kessler, is owned by Janna and John Price, the complaint for forfeiture states.
The Prices own numerous properties on the South Coast, including gas stations and car washes.
The two-story building was used as a farm since at least October 2010, when neighbors complained of marijuana smells coming from the vents, and city code-enforcement and fire-inspector teams saw the plants during site visits.
They sent violation letters to the owners and Kessler over the unpermitted electrical and plumbing additions, which likely were made to support the marijuana-growing equipment, the complaint states.
The city inspectors observed plants in various stages of growth, and “the heat, humidity and marijuana odor inside the defendant property was overwhelming,” according to the complaint.
Architects were hired to help with the required renovations, and the property owner was in touch with city code-enforcement teams to provide updates on the plans for bringing the building into compliance.
In October of last year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Price called the city and said he wanted to evict Kessler, but it could take six months because of the lease. In January, his attorney called the city to ask about the pending code-enforcement action, the complaint states.
It appears the Harmony Wellness Cooperative is still cultivating and distributing marijuana at that location and so the property itself can be forfeited to the United States, the complaint says.
DEA agents and local police seized a trailer-full of pungent evidence Thursday from the Haley Street building during the raid, and also served a search warrant at Kessler’s house in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood.
Attempts by Noozhawk to reach the affected property owners were not successful Friday.
Six men have been charged in the first federal prosecution in Oregon of medical marijuana growers, accused of growing much more pot than patients needed and conspiring to sell the excess on the black market.
The arrests follow harvest-time raids in Southern Oregon last fall when federal agents ripped out hundreds of plants with backhoes and hauled them off in dump trucks.
The government said the haul was 4,000 pounds.
Federal authorities have complained that pot grown under the state’s medical marijuana law has been turning up as far away as Florida. An affidavit filed with the new charges says some of the pot involved was sent north to Washington state.
The six are accused of conspiring to grow and distribute thousands of pounds of marijuana from four gardens in Jackson County.
“We would hope that this sends a message and has a deterrent effect on other would-be drug dealers who would operate under the medical marijuana law,” U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said.
Oregon’s law allows users of medical marijuana to designate growers who can supply them with up to 1.5 pounds a year.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit filed in federal court said medical marijuana growers in the Southern Oregon use drip irrigation, fertilizer, support structures and harvest techniques to grow plants ranging from 6 to 10 feet tall and, at the allowed rate of six plants per patient, yielding much more than the state law allows.
The affidavit said agents dried and processed a few plants from last fall’s raids, with yields ranging from 5 to 11 pounds each of marijuana bud.
Growers and medical marijuana advocates say the raids had an impact. State records this spring showed that the number of gardens planted to supply multiple patients will be down markedly, especially among those growing for 15 or more people.
Two of the six suspects made initial appearances Tuesday in federal court in Medford: Michael Grantski, 50, and Clifford Ruhland, 32. Two more were expected to appear Wednesday, and the final two later this week.
Arraignments for Grantski and Ruhland were scheduled for later in May. A federal public defender who represented them Tuesday did not immediately return a call for comment.
Probably everybody who is reading this blog has seen the Kony 2012 video that went viral, amassing 28 million hits in its first day. When we say “viral” we think of something spreading instantaneously over a wide swath of demographics. However, some things spread more like cancers. They dont necessarily infect a large swath of people but when they do they have profound effects. It is especially important for our government to consider this spread when it trys to engineer social behavior. A good example is when the government started a program forcing welfare fathers to work, inadvertantly promoting single parent families. See you babe! Government programs have unanticipated impacts all the time.
I have mentioned that when Dennis Peron’s dispensary, the first in the world, was shut down in San Francisco more dispensaries exponentially metastasized in its place. so what is going to happen with Richard Lee’s dispensary now that it has been shut down (although the school has vowed to remain open)?
There are a few early indications. Oakland has approved operating permits for four new dispensaries and more underground Measure Z Clubs are operating all over the city. Now rather than a center hub it is more of an independent network system. You can close down one source or several sources but they cant close the network, it is too large. The risk is relatively low, with so many dispensaries the chance of any single dispensary being harassed is relatively low.
If I were writing a press release for the Cannabis Medical Dispensary Association which cannot be reached because it does not exist it would go something like this:
The unfair and unwarranted destruction of the Blue Sky Dispensary by the federal government was despicable, however, it remains ineffectual not one medical marijuana patient is without medicine because of this raid. The government faces a losing choice whether or not it prosecutes Lee. By taking Lee out the government created a big hole in the forest, its fertile soil and its well seeded. So we would like to congratulate the Federal Government for helping out industry grow.
But, getting back to that metastasis, Lee has trained hundreds of people as employees or interns who will now be able to go out and use their entrepreneurial training to open up their own cannabusinesses.
So to all my readers, go forth and prosper. Happy 420!
The good Lord knows I do not normally waste a lot of time trying to figure out what the Federal government is up to. There is no rhyme or reason to their continued interference between people’s personal freedom to use cannabis and the their promotion of the ever-growing prison industrial complex. It is like a bad movie with horrible actors in roles they were never meant to play. The absurdity of cannabis prohibition continues to come to the forefront of the national dialogue and suddenly the Feds feel they need to justify their stance with erroneous bullshit excuses about saving kids and the dangers of medical marijuana. I call BULLSHIT!
The medical cannabis industry has blossomed over the past couple of years into an unstoppable powerhouse of outlaws, activists, business people, professionals, and cannabis users. The issue is more alive and mainstream than ever. I watched the movie 50/50 the other night, and was amazed at the gratuitous and pointed references to medical cannabis. The movie was very real to me, as I have just gone through a very similar experience with my best friend, and cannabis playing such an up front role in this major motion picture was refreshing. It let me know that regardless of the onslaught of negative press and government interference, that our message continues to break through boundaries of intolerance and is reaching the hearts and minds of our culture. It is not new that cannabis is portrayed in a movie, but the message and the tone of its appearance in movies like 50/50 and the movie It’s Complicated (Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep use cannabis to liven up their drab mid-life crisis) shows that the dichotomy of how our society views cannabis is evolving. Cannabis is no longer seen as an activity for simple derelicts and outcasts; but is becoming more acceptable by those who see that cannabis is safe, enjoyable and helpful.
Which brings me back to my original question…WTF ARE THE FEDS THINKING? Our government often has its collective head up its collective ass so far that they either do not see what is happening right in front of their eyes, or more likely, they are influenced by such powerful lobbying forces and the big payout from prohibition that they continue to double down on lies and press misinformation and bizarre claims as their reasoning for ruining people’s lives over a fucking plant. It is unbelievable really.
In a recent interview, US Attorney for the Northern District, Melinda Haag attempted to justify the Federal crackdown on medical cannabis providers with a bizarre reasoning based on saving the children from the dangers of crime caused as a result of dispensaries. Here is what she said:
“When a dispensary comes to my attention that is close to a school, a park, a playground or children, that’s a line I’ve decided to draw.”
“There is a belief, backed by facts, that marijuana operations are often times the victims of criminal activity,” she added. “Armed robberies at dispensaries, armed robberies at grow operations, and people who are nearby are at risk [to wit: school children] as a result of that.”
Ms. Haag, respectfully, your “belief, backed by facts,” are first off simply unfounded, and secondly, if the standard for deciding if a business can operate is the potential for crime near schools or youth facilities, then I would expect for you to begin closing every bank, bar, liquor store, and pharmacy within 1000 feet of a school as well. ALL of these types of businesses are far more prone to criminal activity than a dispensary. If you truly want to use that you are saving the children with these actions, then your response would also have to encompass other businesses with similar risks. But we all know this is not really about that. You could give a shit about the kids, and frankly, if you did give a shit about the kids you would want a safe, regulated, and secured dispensary around for the added security measures they bring to an area.
Just admit it…your lies are based in deception and are a weak attempt at justifying what can only be seen as bad policy. For you to continue this attack on patients and providers by hiding behind some myth that children are in danger is fucking nuts. You are fucking crazy. That is right…I said it. US Attorney for the Northern District of CA Melinda Haag is fucking crazy. There is no other reasonable explanation to your actions and your poor excuse for taking those actions. It does not hold water, and you should be ashamed, Ms. Haag. I know, somewhere in there, is a bright and intelligent person who knows deep in her heart that this is a bad idea based on ideology and intolerance that are directly funded by those who are getting rich off of the drug war. That is some sad shit. When this all shakes out, and cannabis prohibition is repealed, you will be seen as a tool that allowed herself to be used by big business and prison lobbies into continue to oppress our citizens with nonsense and lies. If that is what you want your legacy to be, then so be it. You got it. You are continuing to defend misinformation and ignorance and put forth weak and non-factual talking points to defend your oppressive actions. You are still a human being, and have the right to speak truth to power and tell the big boys in DC that enough is enough and that you are tired of bullshitting people to keep their prohibition in tact. It is not working anyways. No one out here believe the dumb shit about how dangerous dispensaries are for kids…especially when dozens of far more dangerous businesses reside in neighborhoods with schools than dispensaries, and you could give a shit.
So spare me the defender of children arrogant bullshit responses in the future. If you believe what you are doing is moral and ethical then you should not need to justify them with such tomfoolery. It is disingenuous and makes you look like a boldface liar and deceptive con-artist working for the evils of our nation, rather than defending our citizens from real danger. You are better than that, and I would hope your future actions would reflect reality instead of some strange urban legend and regurgitated CA Police Chiefs lobbying info rather than actual statistics.
At this point “WTF are the feds thinking” is a mystery. I can tell you what they are not thinking. They are not thinking that their actions, a ruse to convince people that cannabis is evil, are seriously damaging the fabric of our society by creating a lie and imprisoning our neighbors for plants. The real dangers to the children are the Feds actions…not ours. One day history will hold you accountable. Just know that. Let that sit with you. You are a war criminal against your own people. Your place in history will be cemented by your willingness to carry out these actions against people who enjoy and provide cannabis. It will say “MELINDA HAAG: DRUG WARRIOR.” WTF are you thinking?
by Dan Freedman, The San Francisco Chronicle
Forget about “Rocky Mountain High.” In Colorado, the medical marijuana industry is a tightly regulated amalgam of businesses policed by gun-toting agents of the state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.
While medical marijuana providers in California are wary of stepped-up federal law enforcement, comparable businesses in Colorado are confident that despite growing pains, their industry – enshrined in the state’s Constitution – will continue to thrive.
“We are on an even keel and moving forward,” said Jason Lauve, board member of the Association of Cannabis Trades for Colorado and publisher of Cannabis Health News magazine.
Colorado and California are among the 16 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have laws permitting marijuana use for medicinal purposes. But while each of the laws conflicts with federal law, Colorado and California represent case studies in the varying degrees of U.S. law enforcement response.
John Walsh, the U.S. attorney in Colorado, sent letters last month to 23 of the state’s estimated 600 marijuana dispensaries and their landlords, ordering the businesses to close or relocate because they are within 1,000 feet of a school.
“We’re trying to focus our efforts on where we think there is the most public harm,” Walsh told Colorado Public Radio. “And schools are our first focus.”
by Michael Montgomery, California Watch – Courtesy of UT San Diego
This week, officials in Mendocino County, Northern California, are expected to pull the plug on an unusual program that put pot growing under supervision of the local sheriff. It was the first effort of its kind in the nation and proved a success, at least in the eyes of many locals. But, as Michael Montgomery reports, federal prosecutors took a different view.
Reporter Michael Montgomery: Call it weed détente. For years, Mendocino County, like other places in Northern California, struggled to contain an explosion in pot growing, especially since the state legalized the use of medical marijuana. So two years ago, officials decided to try something completely new – legalize medical marijuana production under strict conditions. And they gave the job to a barrel-chested sheriff’s sergeant named Randy Johnson.
Randy Johnson: Prior to July, when the program started, what I knew about marijuana was chop it down and haul it to the evidence locker. (Crowd laughs.)
Reporter: That’s Johnson speaking at a local library last year. It was one of dozens of meetings with growers aimed at coaxing them out of the shadows. Johnson tells the group they’re allowed to cultivate enough medical marijuana to support a real business – but only if they follow environmental rules, submit to inspections by the cops and pay hefty fees.
Johnson: I haven’t had a single complaint on any of your gardens, and I thank you for that. (Applause)
Reporter: The program has earned the sheriff’s department more than half a million dollars and enlisted nearly 100 growers. One of them is George Unsworth. On a recent day, Unsworth walked down a narrow trail on his property, which is situated on a rugged mountain in a remote part of the county.
George Unsworth: We’re on the north side of Round Valley.
Reporter: Unsworth says for decades, he grew marijuana guerrilla-style. Then he joined the county’s cultivation program.
Unsworth: We’re fallow now.
Reporter: At a large garden strewn with brown weeds, Unsworth pulls out his smartphone. He flicks to an image showing him standing at the same spot last year with a man in uniform.
Unsworth: See, that’s where he is, and right there, and you see the plants behind him right here.
Reporter: That’s you and a sheriff’s deputy standing here on your land. And there’s marijuana plants right behind you.
Unsworth: Yeah, see the plants behind.
Reporter: And you’re both smiling.
Unsworth: Shaking the deputy sheriff’s hand and looking over this incredible wilderness and not being on the ground, my feet facing the dirt and handcuffs and getting ready to go to jail. I cannot describe the joy of feeling that we were finally part of the county, not the outcasts.
Reporter: After California voters legalized medical marijuana use 16 years ago, the state never determined how pot should be produced, leaving such regulations to local authorities. So far, only Mendocino has taken on the challenge.
Unsworth: There we go.
Reporter: Unsworth unfurls a large banner stenciled with his county permit number. He uses it to notify aerial patrols that this is a legal farm. He says last season, it worked.
by Janey Urquhart, The Aspen Times
“It’s certainly a lot more risky business than I intended to get into,” said the owner of Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness near Basalt, who asked not to be named. “Yes, I’m worried, but I have confidence we’re going to be OK.
“In the state of Colorado, we’ve been regulated a lot more than in other states. I think they’re going to leave most of us alone as long as we’re complying with state law.”
Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness first opened in the Aspen Business Center before relocating to a location outside of Basalt early this year. It’s one of a handful of medical marijuana businesses that operate in unincorporated Pitkin County and complies only with state laws. The county declined to regulate medical marijuana at the advice of county attorney John Ely.
Regulations had been drawn up and were ready for formal review when he advised county commissioners to drop the whole thing last summer.
“I don’t think the county should be in the position of abetting the violation of federal law,” Ely told commissioners in June, when they subsequently voted to reject the proposed rules. Ely was scheduled to update commissioners on the state’s medical marijuana regulations behind closed doors last week; the conversation is now scheduled Tuesday instead. He said he wants to update commissioners on the status of state law but isn’t advocating any change in the county’s course of action.
Last summer, he advised commissioners that the county should not ask its employees to issue licenses to marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical marijuana because it puts them in a position of potential criminal liability.
Operators themselves, however, remain caught in the quandary of engaging in a business that violates federal law but is permitted under state law. There are 667 retail shops, or dispensaries, 926 cultivation operations and 246 infused-product manufacturers operating under Colorado law, according to figures from the state Revenue Department. The state is one of 16, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use.
“Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking,” Billy Miller, a partner in L.E.A.F., said of the potential federal crackdown in Colorado. L.E.A.F. was one of the first Aspen dispensaries to open when the industry exploded in Colorado in 2009. Its parent company also operates two growing facilities, both located in unincorporated Garfield County.
L.E.A.F. was recently inspected by a state official with the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division in a routine check for compliance, Miller said. Operators face daunting paperwork and filing requirements.
“There’s quite a bit of administrative work to the business right now,” he said.
Lauren Maytin, an Aspen attorney who advises more than a dozen marijuana businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as others around the state, believes the feds will target blatant violators, not operators who are working diligently to follow the letter of Colorado law.
“You’re within 1,000 feet of a school, you’re in trouble,” she said. Large-scale growers could also draw scrutiny, she predicted.
“Quite frankly, they could come in and arrest everybody,” Maytin said. “If they’re not going to do that, then they’re looking for something.”