OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Just days after recreational pot became legal in California, one of the state’s biggest and best-known marijuana dispensaries is trying to determine what the fed’s changing position on marijuana enforcement means for its budding business.
Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that gave pot a pass in states where it’s legal.
If there was concern Sessions’ announcement might have a chilling effect on California’s newly-legalized marijuana industry, there was little evidence of that at Oakland’s Harborside dispensary Thursday, where sales continued to be red-hot.
“It’s very hard for me to imagine that any U.S. Attorney faced with the kinds of real and serious crime problems that exist in the country today would choose to go after legal, licensed, tax-paying businesses,” said Harborside CEO Steve Deangelo.
But less than a week into the new year, California’s marijuana industry is once again under a legal cloud after Sessions gave federal prosecutors the green light to go after pot sellers and buyers in the state.
Medical marijuana user Michelle Krespi has been using medical marijuana ever since she suffered a stroke a decade ago. “I say once again that it’s medicine,” said Krespi. “I’ve never had any deleterious effects from using it, only benefits.”
The attorney general’s announcement sent a ripple of fear and uncertainty through the new industry, where many say they feel like they’ve only come out of the shadows to now face possible prosecution.
“The state wants to know where we’re cultivating. They want all of our personal information. And now, they’re saying you can be prosecuted,” said marijuana grower Jeron Poole. “I feel like we’re being set up for failure.”
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra may provide some legal cover, releasing a statement of strong support. “In California, we decided it was best to regulate, not criminalize, cannabis. Unlike others, we embrace, not fear, change. After all, this is 2018 not the 20th century. At the California Department of Justice we intend to vigorously enforce our state’s laws and protect our state’s interests.”
Harborside was previously the subject of a federal lawsuit and it ultimately prevailed, which has seemingly emboldened the dispensary into believing it would be the least likely candidate to be targeted a second time by the feds.
Federal agents have said they don’t have the resources to go after pot users on a regular basis. But they could go after owners of pot shops, and even landlords who rent space to them.
Sessions’ policy will reportedly let federal prosecutors across the country decide what resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts.