Marin Alliance For Medical Marijuana Dodges Feds -- for Now
November 14, 2011
Chris Roberts, SF WeeklyAn eviction notice was never so welcome. Last Wednesday, California's oldest storefront medical marijuana collective, Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, received an eviction notice from its landlord -- which means the dispensary gets to defy the federal government's new war on medical marijuana and remain open, for now.
You see, MAMM is one of the at least five Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries which received letters from Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California, at the end of September. The letters, addressed to the property owners renting to the dispensaries -- which were within 1,000 feet of parks or schools -- gave a 45-day deadline to close up shop or risk property forfeiture and lengthy prison terms.
Three San Francisco dispensaries also received letters from Haag at the end of September. All have either closed or relocated as of Monday, with the second to close, Medithrive, shutting its doors Sunday evening.
But since MAMM was served with an eviction notice which it is now contesting in court, the feds' 45-day mark has come and gone -- so MAMM is still selling medical cannabis, according to founder Lynette Shaw.
"The landlord was able to tell the feds we are in the process of being evicted," Shaw said. "That keeps us in the process in the civil arena ... and while we are in the process, we are absolutely not going to close."
Shaw's $2,500 monthly lease on the property runs through April. Her only regret is that the lease isn't longer, she told SF Weekly on Monday. "I wish we had a lease for five years more, not five months," she said.
While we are no legal scholars, the situation is clear: Landlord-tenant law is the purview of state and local government, not the feds; interrupting eviction procedures would constitute an abuse of the Tenth Amendment, the very law which is at the center of two lawsuits filed against the federal government by medical marijuana patient advocates. "They won't break the Constitution over marijuana," Shaw said. "It's funny -- we now have more rights than we've had for a long time."
It's unclear how Haag's office will react. In a brief e-mail exchange Monday with SF Weekly, Haag said only "now that the deadline has passed, we will look at the current status and make decisions based on the individual facts and circumstances."
Federal law enforcement officials have not contacted Shaw or her dispensary, she said.
No eviction notices "saved" San Francisco's Divinity Tree Wellness Co-Op, whch sold through the last of its stock and shut its Geary Street doors -- for good, judging by the tearful hugs shared by the budtending crew at the end of business Friday night -- last week.
Mr. Nice Guy, formerly located at 174 Valencia St., has reportedly moved to a nearby location and is now delivery-only.
On Monday, a spokesman for Medithrive confirmed the Mission District dispensary -- quite possibly San Francisco's largest, with 26,000 registered patients -- shut down as of Sunday, though only "temporarily," according to the outgoing message on the dispensary's telephone line.
"It's a fluid situation," said dispensary spokesman PJ Johnston, who noted that Medithrive has decided to join Shaw in the lawsuit filed against the federal Justice Department last week as a co-plaintiff. "We hope to force the federal government to engage in rational dialogue on this issue."
That could happen as soon as this week. The government's response to the initial court filing last week is due today [Tuesday], and a judge could schedule a preliminary hearing as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, Johnston said.
In the meantime, an unknown number of dispensaries statewide have yielded to federal pressure and shut down. The number is in the "dozens," according to Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a medical cannabis users' advocacy group. "Keep in mind there are over 1,000 dispensaries in California," Hermes said. "The more important point to make is how many landlords and facilities across the state are calling the feds' bluff and remaining open despite the threats."
As of Monday, there are no reports of eviction proceedings or raids against defiant dispensaries, thought the feds' overall intent is clear, according to Shaw.
In a conference call with her attorneys, lawyers for the Justice Department said "they intend to remove the entire cannabis industry," Shaw said.
"They're starting with us," she said.