Federal prosecutors launched a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, warning stores that they must shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges. Feds also threatened to confiscate property even though the stores are operating legally under California's 15-year-old medical marijuana law.
California's four U.S. attorneys sent letters to at least 16 marijuana shops (or their landlords) stating that they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in the Golden State.
"Under United States law, a dispensary's operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions," letters signed by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in San Diego read.
"Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States ... regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary."
The move comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana following a two-year period during which federal officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.
Under the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, patients and their 'primary caregivers' are protected from criminal prosecution under state law for personal possession and cultivation of marijuana, but not for distribution or sale to others.
However, possession, sale, distribution and transportation of marijuana, medical or otherwise, remain illegal under federal law. Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no accepted medical use.