Washington, DC: The federal government is continuing to target facilities that dispense cannabis to state-qualified patients, even in cases where such facilities are properly licensed by the state.
On Thursday, federal authorities sent letters to multiple Colorado dispensaries stating that “action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property” if they do not cease operations within 45 days. The letters, sent by US Attorney John Walsh, state: “This … 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. … [T]he Department of Justice has the authority to enforce federal law even when such activities may be permitted under state law.”
The Justice Department alleges that all of the facilities cited in their complaint are in violation of 21 USC Code Sec. 860, which prohibits the distribution of a federally controlled substance within one thousand feet of “a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school or a public or private college, junior college, or university, or a playground, or housing facility owned by a public housing authority.” Colorado state law imposes similar zoning restrictions; however, many if not all of the facilities in question are believed to have been grandfathered in under the law and were operating with a valid state license.
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, last week’s efforts in Colorado mark the first time that the federal authorities have targeted facilities that are operating explicitly under a state license.
Speaking on Tuesday with KQED News in San Francisco, Tommy LaNier — Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative — warned that Justice Department officials are also intending to target city and county officials who oversee local regulations permitting the production or dispensing of medical cannabis. “[We] have … advised those places where they’re trying to regulate marijuana — which is illegal under the Control Substances Act — (that) they cannot do that,” LaNier said.
He added that the Justice Department’s crackdown intends to eventually target every state that allows for some form of limited legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
In December, US Attorney General Eric Holder told members of Congress that the Justice Department would only target medical cannabis operators that “use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute.”
Members of the NORML Legal Committee filed suit in November against the federal government arguing that its actions were in violation of the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. That lawsuit remains pending.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, or Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.