Medical marijuana superstores possible federal targets in Colorado?
U.S. Attorney John Walsh has sent out two waves of closure-threat letters to medical marijuana dispensaries near schools -- and his spokesman reveals that a third wave is coming. But could Walsh's targets in Colorado expand to so-called marijuana superstores, as has taken place in California? His office rep says there are no such plans at present, but at least one advocate is concerned.
The official leading this charge on the West Coast is U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, widely regarded to be a hardliner on medical marijuana. She's among the pioneers of targeting medical marijuana businesses near schools, plus parks, playgrounds and anywhere else children might gather.
During early 2011, in response to a request for guidance about MMJ regulations submitted by Oakland's city attorney, she sent a letter that features a passage essentially outlining her philosophy on this subject. It reads:
The prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs and the disruption of drug trafficking organizations is a core priority of the Department. This core priority includes prosecution of business enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana. Accordingly, while the Department does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law was stated in the October 2009 Ogden Memorandum, we will enforce the CSA vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.
The Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho interpreted Haag's missive as a clarification of the aforementioned Ogden memo, which advised U.S. Attorneys not to focus on MMJ patients or businesses that were following the law in states that had legalized cannabis for medical use. As such, she anticipated a federal crackdown. Jeff Dorschner, speaking for Walsh, suggested otherwise, noting that his boss wasn't bound by the Haag letter and would continue to look at possible marijuana prosecutions (like a prior one involving Highlands Ranch grower Chris Bartkowicz) on a case-by-case basis.
Then, in January 2012, Walsh sent letters to 23 dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, informing them that they faced asset forfeiture if they didn't close or move within 45 days. One letter in that batch was withdrawn because children didn't attend classes at the building the MMC in question was near, but the other 22 centers followed orders -- as did an additional 25 dispensaries that received letters in the months that followed. According to Walsh, this action didn't contradict the Ogden memo, or a subsequent one by Deputy Attorney James M. Cole that distinguished between caregivers and dispensaries, because it was aimed at protecting young people from drugs -- a longtime priority of the Justice Department.
That's been Haag's mantra, too -- until this month, when she filed forfeiture complaints against Harborside Health Center, a mammoth operation that claims 108,000 patients -- more than the number of Coloradans with red cards according to the most recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report. (Latest CDPHE total: 96,709.)
Haag's rationate? Harborside's size.
Page down to continue reading about the federal crackdown on Calfornia superstores.