In what appears to have been a 360-degree turn in the government’s stance on dealings with medical marijuana dispensary owners, Attorney General Eric Holder recently testified that prosecuting these business owners is a “low priority.”
A Colorado politician recently grilled Holder on the Judiciary Committee about medical marijuana and a June 1 memo that essentially told federal prosecutors that they were to prosecute people who cultivated, distributed or sold marijuana legally in states that allow it.
Now, Holder is saying that given the Justice Department’s lack of resources, this will remain a low priority. But do the owners of Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries really believe him?
Our Los Angeles medical marijuana lawyers certainly don’t. After months of threats from prosecutors, including to landlords who allow dispensary owners to rent from them, officials are saying they don’t plan to prosecute criminally.
But the months of harassment have done enough damage. City officials throughout California are concerned that they should ban dispensaries from opening up in their city limits. Many businesses have been forced to shut down because there was so much backlash they lost their offices and couldn’t find new ones with reasonable rents.
A 2009 memo told prosecutors that prosecution of “significant” traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, remains a core priority, but the memo told prosecutors that it isn’t an “efficient use of federal resources” to go after people who have cancer or other ailments that require the use of medical marijuana, so long as they are doing it it legally in the state where they live. This protection also applies to people who may be taking care of them.
The June memo states that the agency’s focus hasn’t change, but that there had been a large increase in cultivation of marijuana as more dispensaries open up. The memo goes on to state that people who operate medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, the businesses that cultivate marijuana and those who distribute it to the dispensaries “are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”
The most recent memo also states that “state laws or local ordinances” are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law.” The prosecutors are able to come after these people for crimes, including money laundering if they make financial transactions with money they received from doing legal business. The business owners could be opened up to an array of federal financial crimes.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who was doing the questioning, seemed pleased at the Attorney General’s answers, though there are major contradictions. The representative’s staff said that Holder said “medical marijuana businesses are not an enforcement priority,” but the June memo, which is still in place, speaks otherwise.
The bottom line is that federal authorities still believe that medical marijuana dispensaries should be prosecuted, even if they are legal in California. This is a mess and the Attorney General’s words don’t make it any easier to understand. Our Los Angeles medical marijuana lawyers are prepared to defend businesses and individuals who get ensnared in this political mess.
The CANNABIS LAW GROUP offers experienced and aggressive representation to the medical marijuana industry in Los Angeles, throughout Orange County and elsewhere throughout Southern California. Call 714-937-2050 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
More Blog Entries:
Medical Marijuana in Los Angeles Not Cool Enough for Teen Recreational Use: December 1, 2011
VIDEO: Polis questions AG Holder on medical marijuana, by Scot Kersgaard, The Washington Independent