*Feds cracking down on landlords leasing space to pot dispensaries

Another weird turn in the already baffling enforcement of marijuana laws. As we posted yesterday, property owners are being warned about possible jail time is they don't evict pot shops within 45 days. Yes, medical marijuana is supposedly legal in California, but prosecutors say that federal laws supersede state laws. Up until now, state and federal authorities have been dancing around each other, but enforcement apparently is about to tighten up - at least for some pot shops. From AP:

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who represents California's Central Valley, said not all of the thousands of storefront pot dispensaries thought to be operating in the state are being targeted. Instead, federal officials are initially going after pot shops located close to schools, parks, sports fields and other places where there are a lot of children and what Wagner termed "significant commercial operations." He said that includes farmland where marijuana is being grown.

Earlier this year, I examined the medical marijuana conundrum for Los Angeles magazine:

During last fall's [ballot initiative] campaign, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would go after anyone who sells, distributes, or grows pot, and the Obama administration shows no willingness to relax its drug stance (though the laws are not being actively enforced). That's really the biggest hurdle: No one expects national legalization for many years, if ever. Even the liberal-minded Netherlands has not yet fully legalized marijuana, and if it doesn't happen there, it's not going to happen in Mississippi. Perhaps a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" coexistence can be established between federal and state officials, although that would require the cooperation of people like L.A. city attorney Carmen Trutanich, who maintains that sales of medical cannabis are illegal, no matter the circumstances. "There's still a lot of solid opposition--from the police, from the Drug Enforcement Administration, from the treatment community," says Jeffrey Miron, director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University's Department of Economics and a longtime chronicler of the marijuana debate. "It's pretty unlikely we're going to see a radical change in the law.

*Update: Looks like the crackdown goes beyond landlords. Department of Justice says that the state's for-profit marijuana operation has swelled to include "numerous drug-trafficking enterprises that operate commercial grow operations, intricate distribution systems and hundreds of marijuana stores." From press release:

Benjamin B. Wagner, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California stated: "Large commercial operations cloak their money-making activities in the guise of helping sick people when in fact they are helping themselves. Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously sick people and those who are caring for them. We are making these announcements together today so that the message is absolutely clear that commercial marijuana operations are illegal under federal law, and that we will enforce federal law."

Also announced this morning was a criminal indictment that charges six people with marijuana trafficking that allegedly generated nearly $15 million in profits. Center of the activity, say prosecutors, is a now-defunct North Hollywood marijuana store called NoHo Caregivers. From press release:

The drug trafficking organization - which sold marijuana at NoHo Caregivers, sold marijuana to other stores, and sent marijuana to affiliates in New York and Pennsylvania - distributed approximately 600 to 700 pounds of marijuana per month, according to the indictment.

**Update: As you might imagine, the news is not going down well in some circles. Here's a comment from Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:

This is much worse than reneging on a campaign pledge or being bad politics at a time when 80 percent of the public supports medical marijuana. This crackdown is going to endanger public safety. The fact is, people in California and the other states with medical marijuana laws are going to use their doctor-recommended marijuana whether the Department of Justice likes it or not. The only question is if we're going to force patients to buy their medicine from the violent black market or if we would rather them obtain labeled and tested product from a safe, state-regulated facility that pays taxes.

More by Mark Lacter:
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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