Feds and meds
October 12, 2011
Nick Miller, Sacramento News & ReviewThe federal government is literally going postal on the Sacramento medical-cannabis community. Already this past week, downtown-based U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner has sent out “more than a dozen letters,” according to a spokesperson, to area landlords, warning that they face both seizure of land and also federal prosecution for allowing medical-cannabis operations on their property. This comes on the heels of last Friday’s press conference, where California’s four U.S. attorneys announced a ramped-up enforcement strategy against the state’s medical-cannabis community.
“It’s a warning letter,” explained Wagner spokeswoman Lauren Horwood. “But if people don’t act on the advice of the letter, then action will be taken.”
Unlike federal letters that went out in Los Angeles, where landlords were given as few as 10 days to comply, Sacramento-area letters included no timeline for action. “Our recommendation makes it clear that the owners need to comply immediately,” Horwood said. She added that landlords should retain an attorney and each will be handled on a “case-by-case” basis.
A total of 16 states in the nation permit medical cannabis, but the feds have zeroed in on California for what they see as egregious violations of its laws, including interstate trafficking, selling to minors and multimillion-dollar commercial operations that violate its Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
This isn’t the first time the feds have sent letters. Courtney Sheats, the local representative for cannabis-advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, noted that in 2007, the federal government warned property owners in the L.A.-area, but never followed through with any actual enforcement.
So far, no Sacramento-area collectives have shut down due to the federal enforcement.
“I have not heard of anybody closing,” Sheats said. “And the feedback that I’m hearing is that the collectives do want to stay open and anticipate staying open, because our patient need is great.”
But, local medical-cannabis collective owners, who spoke to SN&R on the condition of anonymity, are at once panicking and also organizing.
One collective operator has already laid off a handful of employees. Others have removed their online presence from Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, WeedMaps and WeedTracker. Many have pulled their print, TV and radio advertising as well. Celebrity Montel Williams even flew in to Sacramento this past Tuesday to speak with patients personally at his Midtown-based collective.
Also, Tuesday was a deadline for collectives to pay a $12,000 permit fee to the city of Sacramento as part of its ordinance. But owners are concerned that the city may eventually alter its ordinance in light of the federal announcement and a recent Los Angeles Superior Court verdict on a government’s ability to regulate cannabis.
Meanwhile, Sacramento collectives are reaching out to unions—similar to Richard Lee in Oaksterdam joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union in May 2010. City collective owners have said they hope to better leverage the federal government with union backing.
For certain, it’s all hands on deck. In the words of the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Dale Gieringer: “I think it’s safe to say the medical-marijuana community is under attack right now.”