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Jan 15

Justice Department Formally Threatens State-Licensed Colorado Cannabis Providers

In December I blogged about rumors that the Obama Justice Department was finalizing plans to expand its recent crackdown on medical cannabis producers and providers to include state-licensed facilities in Colorado. Today, the federal government made good on its threats.

According to numerous media reports, federal authorities today issued warning letters to 23 state-licensed dispensaries in Colorado stating that “action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property” if they continue operating within 1,000 feet of a school. The letters, sent by U.S. Attorney John Walsh, say that the dispensaries have 45 days from today to close shop or face federal sanction.

It states, in part:

“Federal law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana. … (This) dispensary is operating in violation of federal law, and the department of Justice has the authority to enforce federal law even when such activities may be permitted under state law. Persons … who operate or facilitate the operation of such dispensaries are subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions under federal law. Moreover, because the dispensary is operating within 1,000 feet of a school, enhanced federal penalties apply.

… This letter … constitutes formal notice that action will be taken to seize and forfeit (your) property if you do not cause the sale and/or distribution of marijuana and marijuana-infused substances at (this) location to be discontinued.”

While the federal government in recent months has utilized similar tactics to close down cannabis providers in California and has also coordinated DEA-led raids of dispensaries in other states, most notably in Washington and Montana, today’s efforts mark the first time that the federal authorities have specifically targeted facilities that are operating explicitly under a state license. (To date, only officials in the states of Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico have formally issued licenses to authorized cannabis providers.) It is estimated that that some 700 state licensed dispensaries are presently operating in Colorado.

Once again, the federal government’s actions belie the administration’s claim that it only intends to target those medical cannabis operators that “use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute.” In this case, the operations in question were grandfathered in under local or state regulations. They are acting in compliance with state law and explicitly with the state’s permission.

Nonetheless, the imprimatur of the state apparently carries little if any weight with the Obama administration, whose first priority in Colorado appears to be matters of zoning enforcement.

Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with state law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state and local officials, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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