Feds threaten medical pot dispensaries with 40-year sentences

A lawful San Jose, Calif., dispensary has been ordered to vacate in latest federal crackdown to challenge state law

Topics: Medical Marijuana, War on Drugs, California, justice department, marijuana, San Jose,

Feds threaten medical pot dispensaries with 40-year sentences (Credit: Shutterstock)

In the latest act in the ongoing drama pitting federal drug laws against state legislation permitting the sale of marijuana, a U.S. attorney is threatening the landlords housing medical marijuana dispensaries with 40 years in federal prison. After ballot measures legalizing the sale and possession of recreational pot use passed in Colorado and Washington state, we wondered whether Obama’s second term would see the beginning of the end of the federal war on drugs.

But as the San Jose crackdown, among others, suggests, the Justice Department will not be backing down. In January, Southern California medical marijuana dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for running a business deemed legal in his state since California legalized marijuana for qualified patients, caregivers and collectives in 1996 and 2003. Now, as the East Bay Express reported, “a new round of actions against lawful medical cannabis dispensaries in the South Bay” has begun following crackdowns in 2011:



Landlords are receiving threatening letters from US Attorney Melinda Haag, warning of forty-year-prison sentences if landlords do not evict their dispensary tenants…

In October 2011, Haag and three other US Attorneys declared war on California’s estimated $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry, threatening hundreds of landlords with forfeiture. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state moved or closed. Haag is attempting to seize Harborside Health Center in Oakland, as well as its sister club in San Jose.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown asked the feds to call off their crackdown, saying California didn’t need “federal gendarmes” kicking in the doors of lawful businesses. In January, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told a San Francisco crowd that Haag had “gone rogue,” adding, “I’m sorry a house fell on her sister,” alluding to the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Last week, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called for decriminalizing, regulating, and taxing California’s multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.

The second-term Obama administration was presented an aperture to push back against the ruinous war on drugs. The Department of Justice is choosing to continue to act against good reason and the general will.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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