DEA moves to pull pot out from under San Francisco landlords

December 04, 2007

Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross, Columnists, San Francisco Chronicle

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is pushing to close San Francisco's cannabis clubs by turning its guns on their landlords - warning them that renting to pot dispensaries could cost them their buildings.

The agency intends to send letters by week's end to 80 owners of buildings housing medical marijuana clubs, similar to notices it fired off recently to landlords in Los Angeles and Sacramento, according law enforcement sources.

"By this notice, you have been made aware of the purposes for which the property is being used," said a copy of the letter sent to Sacramento landlords, signed by the special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, Javier Pena.

"You are further advised that violations of federal laws relating to marijuana may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets."

In other words - your building.

The letters set no deadlines for owners to evict the clubs.

At one time there were more than 40 cannabis clubs in San Francisco, although only 28 have applied for licenses under a city permit process that took effect in July.

State law, of course, has no problem with cannabis clubs as long as they are genuinely dealing in medical marijuana, under the terms of the 1996 ballot measure Proposition 215. The feds, however, don't recognize medicinal uses for pot and have periodically raided clubs in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who helped write San Francisco's permit rules, said Tuesday he wouldn't be surprised if the DEA launches a new crackdown.

"The feds do as they please ... (and) they've done it before," he said. "I would only hope they would coordinate with local law enforcement and that they are aware of the new regulatory system we have in place, and are sensitive to it."

Pena would not comment, saying only that he would discuss the new strategy at a later date.

One recipient of the DEA's watch-out letter could be suspended Supervisor Ed Jew, who with family members owns a building on the 1500 block of Ocean Avenue that houses a pot club.

It turns out that Jew has other pot-related tenant issues as well. A house he co-owns on the 1100 block of Ocean Avenue was raided by police over the weekend after the person living there allegedly turned it into a flourishing pot farm.

Police confiscated more than 200 marijuana plants and scores of grow lights during the raid and took an unidentified man into custody.

Records on file at City Hall show that the two-story duplex was owned exclusively by Jew until October, when he sold a partial ownership to a relative for $155,500.

"Ed has got nothing to do with any of this," said lawyer Steve Gruel, who is defending Jew on federal bribery, extortion and mail fraud charges and is also trying to keep the Board of Supervisors from giving him the permanent heave-ho from his seat.

"The police have not even spoken to him," Gruel said.

The Ocean Avenue pot club housed in the building owned by the Jew family was raided by federal agents in June 2005, and for a time was shut down. It now has new owners and has reopened under the name Norcal Herbal Relief Center.

And from the sound of it, business is going strong. An employee told us Tuesday they are open seven days a week.



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