Update: Yesterday, we reported that landlords of property used by medical marijuana operations in California had received letters from a U.S. Attorney threatening asset seizure, because pot is against federal law. Now, Denver's Medical Marijuana Industry Group is decrying the tactic even as it touts Colorado's laws in comparison to Cali's.
The MMIG statement begins by referencing a 2009 memo by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden discouraging U.S. Attorneys from using their scarce resources to go after MMJ businesses that are following the law in states that have legalized its use. A subsequent memo by California-based U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, which threatened prosecutions, muddied the water considerably, as did actions in April by Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh, who concluded that two proposed elements of a so-called medical marijuana cleanup bill ran afoul of federal law.
More to the point, however, MMIG maintains that "Colorado's comprehensive regulatory scheme... serves as a new paradigm for medical cannabis regulation nationwide," in contrast to "California's patchwork quilt of often-conflicting ordinances."
This position echoes the viewpoint shared below by attorney and marijuana advocate Brian Vicente -- that Colorado dispensary owners, and their landlords, are safer from federal crackdown than their California counterparts because of the state's heavy involvement in overseeing and regulating the MMJ industry.
Here's the complete MMIG statement, followed by our earlier coverage:
President Obama's stated policy indicates that patients and providers in unambiguous compliance with state medical marijuana laws should not be a target of federal prosecution. The coordinated effort between California's four U.S. attorneys, the City of San Diego, and other municipalities is a prime example of why a strong regulatory framework is of critical importance. Colorado's comprehensive regulatory scheme, which requires background checks, licensing, seed-to-sale tracking, and harsh penalties for non-compliance, serves as a new paradigm for medical cannabis regulation nationwide. Conversely, California's patchwork quilt of often-conflicting ordinances is an invitation for chaos, and precipitates federal involvement in what is clearly an issue of state concern.
Original item, 12:11 p.m. October 6: Has the U.S. government come up with another way to undermine medical marijuana in states where legal? That's the implication of a California report about the feds threatening to seize property unless landlords evict MMJ operations. But the approach is actually nothing new, according to marijuana advocate Brian Vicente.
"This tactic was attempted about two years ago by the federal government in California," notes Vicente, the head of Sensible Colorado and one of the main proponents for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which is targeting the November 2012 ballot. "They sent these landlord letters, telling them, 'If you continue operating, you can get shut down, because you're violating federal law.'"
That's exactly what's happening now, according to News10 in Sacramento. The station reports that numerous landlords have received a certified letter from the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco that states, in part, "The dispensary is operating in violation of federal law. Property involved in such operations, including real property, is subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States."
Sounds ominous -- and while Vicente says he's unaware of the feds following through on such warnings a couple of years back, "that doesn't mean it might not be different this time."
Could a similar tactic be tried in Colorado? Hard to say. The asset-forfeiture approach has yet to be used here, Vicente says, but the prospect can't be dismissed.
"In order to seize people's property under federal law, you have to show two things," he explains. "One, that people are breaking the law, and two, that either the property or the proceeds in question were used to foster this law-breaking. So it may well be within the federal government's reach to engage in some degree of asset forfeiture when it comes to legitimate medical marijuana providers and their landlords in Colorado. The same way it's 100 percent illegal under federal law for a dying AIDS patient who's a medical marijuana patient to hold a joint in Colorado, this is another federal policy that conflicts with state law. We haven't seen enforcement in this area, but it's possible."
However, Vicente continues, "Colorado has not been a real focus for the federal government in terms of trying to shut down our medical marijuana laws. They've been much more active in California, Michigan, Montana and Washington than they've been here, and I think that's because we have a transparent, state-run medical marijuana program that is highly regulated."
For this same reason, Vicente doesn't anticipate stealthy federal government attacks on the system next year in an attempt to undermine the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act's chances. "What we're proposing is a highly regulated, state-licensed system for all adult sales. So it's our hope that having the state step in and firmly regulate the recreational industry in the same way they've done with the medical industry will keep the federal government out of Colorado."
At the same time, Vicenete feels that the feds are stepping up their anti-marijuana campaign in Colorado and beyond. Earlier this week, he spoke to us about roadblocks put before a proposed study of marijuana's use in treating post-traumatic stress disorder -- and at that time, he also mentioned efforts to prevent MMJ businesses from using the banking system.
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"This is another underhanded tactic by the federal government," he maintains. "We've seen them shutting down banks, attacking legitimate dispensaries through the IRS, and now we're talking about property seizure. Ultimately, patients are going to pay the price if this ongoing assault on providers continues. It's going to be tougher for them to get their medicine in the climate the federal government is creating."
Look below to watch the aforementioned News10 report:
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana to treat PTSD? Army personnel form MMJ advisory board."