SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) – Federal prosecutors in California announced a full-court-press crackdown on the state’s commercial marijuana industry Friday, saying they will not allow large-scale, for-profit enterprises in the name of medical marijuana.

The federal law enforcement effort was announced in a news conference in Sacramento by the four regional U.S. attorneys in the state, including Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California.  It came after the U.S. attorneys sent letters Wednesday and Thursday notifying at least 16 pot shops or their landlords that they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in California.

California’s voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s permission, but federal laws criminalizing marijuana make no exception for state laws.

The U.S. prosecutors said they will target large commercial enterprises and not individual patients.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of Sacramento said, “Large commercial operations cloak their money-making activities in the guise of helping sick people when they are in fact helping themselves.”

Wagner said, “Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously ill sick people and those who are caring for them.”

The four U.S. attorneys said their enforcement actions will include civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties used in marijuana growing, warning letters to owners of property where marijuana is sold and criminal prosecutions.

Haag said her office will begin by concentrating on marijuana dispensaries near schools and parks.

“Marijuana stores operating in proximity to schools, parks and other areas where children are present send the wrong message to those in our society who are the most impressionable,” Haag said.

“In addition, the huge profits generated by these stores, and the value of their inventory, present a danger that the stores will become a magnet for crime, which jeopardizes the safety of nearby children,” she said.

Haag said that while Northern California enforcement will begin with stores near schools and parks, “we will almost certainly be taking action against others.”

“None are immune from action by the federal government,” Haag said.

Lynette Shaw, executive director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, said the landlord of her dispensary received a “threatening and ominous” letter from Haag on Sept. 29.

“It’s very scary for us. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Shaw said.

She said she believes her landlord doesn’t want to evict the group, but that the landlord is consulting a lawyer about his options.

The dispensary is 50 yards from Peri Park, Shaw said. But she said she believes the organization’s presence has “absolutely not” harmed children and has in fact helped because it has reduced the number of street dealers of marijuana.

The Marin Alliance received a use permit from Fairfax in 1997 and is the longest-standing medical marijuana dispensary in the state, Shaw said.

She said the permit now has 53 conditions and said the alliance has “abided by every rule.”

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, called the crackdown “a full frontal assault on medical cannabis.”

ASA Chief Council Joseph Elford said, “Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama Administration.”

Dale Gieringer, coordinator of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, “With the federal budget on empty, the economy in disarray, our prisons overflowing, and prohibition-related violence raging across the border, it’s an outrageous misuse of federal resources to wage war on marijuana dispensaries.”

Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said in a statement from Washington, D.C., that the Justice Department “will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers.”

But “the actions taken today in California by our U.S. attorneys and their law enforcement partners are consistent with the department’s commitment to enforcing existing federal laws,” Cole said.

California was the first state in the nation to enact a medical marijuana law. Fifteen other states now have similar laws, according to NORML.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (28)
  1. Stephen Quentin says:

    Great! The medicinal laws in this state are abused to no end. Needs to be some corrective action. Go feds!

    1. right on says:

      put them all in prison, but call the IRS first to take all of their ill-gotten gains.

      1. sane, unlike you says:

        “ill-gotten gains”? This is all legal in California. And this means LESS tax revenue for the state, and more unemployed people.

    2. Nickolas Robinson says:

      What type of pro-police state do you live in? Perhaps you forgot that the majority of people are for the medical use of marijuana? And what idiot opens a business to not make profit??? In that case, would you say that it is unreasonable to turn a profit for your hard work and your own personal resources gambled in starting a dispensary?
      Marijuana is not free, easy, or cheap in any sense.
      Hey, lets do all this work and front all this money, and take all these legal risks, and comply with all these zoning laws to NOT MAKE MONEY! … get a grip on reality.

    3. hardrain77 says:

      Troll much?

  2. Bay Area Guy says:

    Way to censor the comments CBS-
    Repost the story so you can wipe out all the Negative comments about Obummer killing more jobs and wiping out tax revenue.

    Good choice of imagery on the news story. Reminds me of the original story of how
    Randolph Hearts media empire help make Marijuana illegal so he and his political buddies can make more money from cutting down trees.

    Some things never change.

    Read the book the Emperor Wears no cloths folks – it might still be in your local library or read it on line you will be shocked.

  3. F Dhanoya says:

    Life is too short to tell people how to live or to regulate. As long as anyone is not blowing that smoke in my face, i have no problem. As long as these hippies are paying their tax, whats the big deal?

    This is our Govt getting too big.

    1. Sam Mallory says:

      haha I am far from a hippy and more or less a 6th generation Californian. I can get medicated with out my work at a dispensary but the hundreds of patients that have real ailments do not deserved to be pushed to the street. Thanks for the nod.

    2. Nickolas Robinson says:

      I agree, our government has forgotten it’s place… to work for the people, not control the people. Last I checked, this was not suppose to be a police state.

  4. sensible guy says:

    Ridiculous. This means less jobs, less tax revenue, more empty storefronts, less income for property owners, etc. Everyone loses.

  5. Ronnielo says:

    This is a win for the Drug Cartels and a loss of voter rights. Alcohol is a far more dangerous drug and is legal. To you two puppets at the top your both fools and must work for the drug cartels besides being total losers.

  6. Bay Area Guy says:

    ONE MORE Obummer failure- How many jobs will this action create Obummer? What a Dip STICK, looser president. Obummer is so far removed from the people he should be removed from office. We THE PEOPLE Voted for Legal Medical marijuana.
    TAZED it and created JOBS to dispense it. We the Poeple will now VOTE in 2012 to remove the guy who challages OUR ( THE PEOPLE’s) choice. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out Obummer.

    1. Bay Area Guy says:

      Ment to say -Taxed it-

  7. steven doughty says:

    Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said the Justice Department “will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers

    now all you FOOLS that abused pot cards will go to pirson.

  8. DanB says:

    All I know is that the dispensary operator quoted in this story — Lynette Shaw — is really a prime example of someone who needs to be run out of business, if not placed behind bars. That woman has been running her little shop up in Fairfax like a crime boss for the better part of a decade, including threats, fake police calls and strong arm tactics against anyone who dares to open up shop in what she considers to be her “territory.” If marijuana is ever to be legitimized, not just legalized, people like her need to be made examples of. Go get her, G-men!

  9. dbarco says:

    I was for “mediinal marijuana” because it did seem to help cancer and AIDS patients. I didn’t vote for every teenybopper and Dead Head to get a pass on the use of this medicine. I would vote “NO” if given the chance to vote on this again. I see way to many home invasion robberies as a result of the popularity and how many folks are making untaxed income that is obscene. GO FEDS!!

    1. Nickolas Robinson says:

      You should also hope to be so lucky to be prescribed this as a sleeping aid instead of Ambien my neighbor almost killed herself with.

  10. Dawg says:

    If it ever becomes legal on the Federal level, it should be despensed only by a pharmacy. Private citizens cannot dispence any other controlled substance, why should they be allowed to dispence marijuana?

  11. notnowhelen says:

    So they allowed the people to suffer in northern california Red Bluff with neighbors who grew their pot forest next door– harvesting now… ruining people’s already limited quality of life with unemployment- with the stink of pot in 108 degree heat and weird behaviors—hostile personalities, changing of the pot guardes, etc., because the government thought they could get money from dispensories… Now it’s a huge mess to clean up which will cost the government again. Thanks! the last three years have been hell thanks to the state of California and the US government.

    1. JoMama says:

      Sorry bud, even though I sympathise and agree with you, the law is the law and whether we agree with it or not it must be obeyed. After all, we are a Republic, a nation of laws and a constition which we must obey, If you have a way make an imemediate change in the law that will benifit the nation as a whole, then bring it on. Otherwise your opinion is only that, your opinion.

  12. h says:

    Corrupt “Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement – California Dept. of Justice” have killed a lot of people. An alarming number of them steal from suspects, sell drugs skimmed from busts and provided murder for hire.

  13. g says:

    Corrupt “Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement – California Dept. of Justice” have killed a lot of people. An alarming number of them steal from suspects, sell drugs skimmed from busts and provide murder for hire.

  14. jsknow says:

    It’s time for We The People to crackdown on UNCONSTITUTIONAL and therefore ILLEGAL federal policy.

    When alcohol was prohibited at the federal level that required an amendment to the Constitution BECAUSE the Constitution gives NO authority to to the federal government to regulate drug use.

    Put the federal government in its place!

    Vote for Ron Paul in 2012!

  15. finally says:

    marijuana ruined my life..

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