UPDATE, Oct. 21, 11:00 A.M. Ever since four U.S. attorneys in California
announced their planned crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in
the state, cannabis rights activists have been asking one question above
all others: where is California's top law enforcement official, Kamala Harris? Why isn't she protesting the federal government's threatened encroachment on Proposition 215, the so-called Compassionate Use Act, which allows residents to smoke marijuana for medical needs?
Yesterday, Harris finally responded in a brief statement released to the news media but which for some reason isn't posted in its entirety on her own website.
Unfortunately, Harris' response, while calling for restraint on behalf
of the feds, isn't exactly the vigorous condemnation activists were
hoping for. Instead, Harris simply stated that while “an overly broad
federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate
patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California,” at the
same time, “ambiguities” in the law must be “resolved either by the
state Legislature or the courts.”
According to a Washington Post article on Harris' statement yesterday,
her message to the feds is clear: as long as you are targeting major
marijuana traffickers, go for it. Otherwise, take a hike. But as the Post
also notes, ever since the announced crackdown, the feds have been
targeting dispensaries–not underground cultivation networks like the
ones run by the Mexican cartels–as well as landlords, who are
being threatened with property seizure. Given that Harris didn't even
touch on these issues, the underlying truth seems to be that nothing
has, or will, change, and the medical marijuana industry as we've come
to know it is doomed.
ORIGINAL POST: According to a Bay Area television report yesterday, landlords in Northern California are receiving letters warning them that they could lose their property if they rent to folks involved in the weed industry.
It's just the latest evidence that despite early signs from the Obama
administration that it wasn't going to interfere with the right of
states to allow the medical use of marijuana, nothing could be further
from the truth. And assuming the feds make good on this latest threat,
it could mean the end of medical marijuana as we know it.
“With the blink of an eye and the flick of the wrist, they can shut
down medical marijuana in California,” said Christopher Glew, who
represents several cannabis collectives in Orange County and elsewhere
in California. “The funny thing is they have the absolute right to do it
and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. By going after
landowners, they can grab a bunch of land, make a bunch of money, and
save face politically by saying, 'Hey, we're not going after sick
patients or arresting little old ladies–we're going after rich
The actual decision to go after landlords appears to have been made back
in February, in the form of a letter doj.haag to Oakland's city attorney from
the U.S. Attorney's office warning that the feds would have no problem
seizing land used for pot production whether or not Oakland was issuing
permits for such activity. But nobody really noticed the memo until now,
when the feds actually started warning specific landowners.
“They are starting up north and working their way down south,” Glew said. “I think the feds are seeing how much land, especially in northern California, is being used for marijuana growing, and realize they can start seizing these properties and turn it into federal land. And the thing with federal forfeiture is that it can take two or three years before it goes to court, but meanwhile you lose all your property.”
Because the warning letters have just now been sent, and no actual properties have been seized, it's unclear exactly what effect the Obama administration's latest assault on medical marijuana will have throughout the state. But Glew says no matter what happens, the halcyon days of the golden state's medical marijuana industry are over. “It will become very clear in the near future what direction the medical marijuana industry will be headed,” he predicted. “It's either going to the grave or it will have to be re-invented. The federal giant has finally woken up. It went to sleep for a few years on us, but now it's waking up.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).