Pot shop seizure letters decried by National Cannabis Industry Association
Last week, U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent letters to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, threatening seizure if they don't close by next month -- an act that caused centers to scramble for scarce new locations and made some owners consider shutting down for good. Against this backdrop, Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, accuses the Obama administration of violating its own dictates.
"It doesn't make sense to me," Smith says about Walsh's decision to target the operations. After all, most if not all of the MMCs in question are presumably following Colorado law, as well as city and/or county ordinances -- and memos written by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Deputy Attorney General James Cole advise federal law-enforcers not to expend scarce resources prosecuting MMJ operations that are legal by the standard of states where medical marijuana has been authorized.
"In terms of the 1,000-foot rule" enacted by most Colorado communities that allow dispensaries, "we have a number of centers that are grandfathered in -- approved by local jurisdictions where they're operating," Smith continues. "And centers in compliance with city and state laws should be left alone. That was the directive in the Ogden memo, and that's what we heard Attorney General Eric Holder say in a congressional committee just a few weeks ago.
Photo by Kim Sidwell Aaron Smith, right, with marijuana activist Mason Tvert.
"Bottom line, the federal government is getting between a city's ability to zone medical marijuana centers -- and it's not a function of the federal government to enforce zoning rules. For example, if the City of Denver determines that these facilities are acceptable regardless of their proximity to a school, that's the city's prerogative -- and with any other industry, that's how the federal government operates. I can't think of any other instance where the federal government has decided to assert zoning rules in relation to an industry. Imagine if they came in and told a city where a pharmacy had to operate."
Thus far, the U.S. Attorney's action has been limited in scope -- but the office's spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, calls the initial mailing the "first wave" of an enforcement action that is expected to produce many sequels. As such, Smith confirms that "just as any business person would be, folks are really concerned they may have to close down, lay off employees and put untold numbers of Coloradans into unemployment lines. In an economy like this, the last thing we need to do is close down an industry and lose jobs. And it would push patients into the black market to get their medicine."
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How is the NCIA responding?
"We are certainly encouraging our constituents to put significant pressure on Eric Holder and the White House, and on President Obama, to live up to his campaign promises, promises made after the election and, frankly, the assurance Mr. Holder gave in Congress last month. They need to back off and allow the states to run their own affairs, and if they don't, I think they'll see significant public backlash, just as they did in California," where the Obama administration's war on weed has been even more sweeping. "I expect to see state officials and local community leaders speaking out against federal activity -- and I expect to see the federal government acknowledgement that they overreached here. It's certainly not in the interest of public safety, not to mention their political interest."
Is this a veiled threat to withhold support to Obama in the run-up to the 2012 election? It doesn't take much reading between the lines to answer that question.
Page down to continue reading our interview with Smith.