Federal government sets its sights on 12 more SF dispensaries

February 09, 2012

Caitlin Donohue, San Francisco Bay Guardian

Bad news for medical marijuana patients in the Bay Area: as reported by the SF Examiner, the DEA has requested records from the city's Department of Public Health for 12 of San Francisco's existing 21 cannabis dispensaries. This is the same move the DEA made before sending the threatening letters to five other cannabis collectives last fall. Those five dispensaries are now closed.

In fall of 2010, US Attorney Melinda Haag targeted five SF dispensaries in school zones with letters declaring them in violation of federal law. In the face of potential jail time for dispensary staff and even the landlords of the buildings that housed the dispensaries, they shut their doors. Now, more than 50 percent of the city's dispensaries could have to follow suit. 

The really upsetting part about all of this? The sheer randomness of it all. In our recent Cannabis Issue, the Guardian interviewed Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who said that in his meeting with Haag over the matter, the US Attorney said the orders to persue the dispensaries came from above. "She said she was only doing what the boss was telling her to do," Ammiano told the Guardian. "We had a hard time with that." The Obama Administration has been frustratingly opaque about the motives behind, and future plans for, persecuting an industry that Attorney General Eric Holder once called a "low priority" for federal law enforcement. 

The Guardian has sent an email to Mayor Ed Lee for his comments on the request for records, and will update this post when we hear back. Even then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, as the Examiner pointed out, sent a letter in 2008 to Congress to encourage it to act against the DEA's attempts to intervene in California's medical marijuana industry.

Assemblymember Ammiano and Senator Mark Leno are leading the efforts to establish a statewide regulatory board cannabis that would, among other things, demonstrate to the feds that the industry is being well-regulated in California. Americans for Safe Access and UFCW (the union representing cannabis workers in California) have also introduced a ballot initiative called the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act that would establish a regulating board made of patients, government representatives, medical professionals, and cannabis industry folks. A poll conducted by Probolsky Research recently put voter support for that measure at 59.2 percent.  

But who knows if California voters will get a chance to regulate marijuana as they see fit. If these requests for records proceed as the last round of them did, SF could be down to nine dispensaries in a city with not only a large base of cannabis patients, but also a thriving cannabis culture. 

The dispensaries whose records were requested by the DEA were: 

Bay Area Safe Alternatives Collective


Good Fellows Smoke Shop

Grass Roots

The Green Cross

Hope Net

Re-Leaf Herbal Center

SF Medical Cannabis Club

Shambala Healing Center

Valencia Street Caregivers

Vapor Room

Waterfall Wellness

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