Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jul 2007
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: 3A
Copyright: 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: William M. Welch, USA TODAY
Cited: Los Angeles City Council
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Threatens to Seize Properties Where Medical Marijuana Sold

LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Justice Department is unleashing a potent new 
weapon in its battle against California's hundreds of medical pot 
clinics, threatening landlords with arrest and property seizures for 
renting to tenants who flout federal drug laws.

Intensifying its crackdown on pot sales that are legal under 
California law but illegal under U.S. law, agents of the Drug 
Enforcement Agency executed search warrants Wednesday in raids on 10 
marijuana dispensaries across Los Angeles.

As agents were moving in, Los Angeles' City Council voted 11-0 to 
tentatively approve a one-year moratorium on more medical marijuana 
stores, which have exploded in number in the past two years.

Federal officials estimate there are 400 storefront and office 
operations selling medical marijuana in Los Angeles and L.A. County, 
up from 20 two years ago and more than double the number at the start 
of the year, DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen said. Law enforcement 
officials contend the sales have become a source for recreational pot users.

"It's clearly not about compassion or care at this point," Pullen 
said. "It's about money."

The most serious threat to California's voter-approved pot sales came 
in a letter last week from the DEA to 150 property owners or managers 
informing them that a tenant is operating a marijuana dispensary on 
the property in violation of federal law.

The letter warns that California's pot law, approved as Proposition 
215 a decade ago, "is not a defense to this crime or to the seizure 
of the property." Landlords, the DEA warned, could lose their 
buildings and land and face felonies with 20-year prison sentences.

"It scared the hell out of my client," said Barry Parker, attorney 
for property owner Kash Holdings LLC. It rents space to Karma Collective.

As a result of the DEA notice, Parker said Karma Collective had 
agreed to close and vacate its space within a month. He predicted 
many other landlords would evict.

"It's just too risky a situation for a landlord to take on, at the 
same time potentially costly," he said.

David Kestenbaum, attorney for Karma Collective, said landlords who 
get such a letter have no choice but to evict pot-selling tenants. 
"It will effectively, in my opinion, shut down the clinics that are 
open and force patients ... to again go back to buying it off the 
streets," he said.

Supporters of marijuana for medical uses say it can relieve pain for 
people with cancer, AIDS and other diseases.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a pro-marijuana 
lobby, called the warning an "attempt by DEA to intimidate these 
operators and force these facilities to close."

His group has not opposed the moratorium, reasoning it could be a 
step toward city regulations recognizing legal pot sales. He said the 
DEA's timing appeared intended to shut down as many clinics as 
possible just as a city moratorium takes effect, preventing stores 
from reopening at another location.

L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine, sponsor of the moratorium, wrote DEA 
Administrator Karen Tandy on Wednesday protesting the focus on 
landlords. He asked "that you abandon this tactic."

"Voters in California and in Los Angeles support the medical use of 
cannabis and want safe, well-regulated access," he said.

Don Duncan, whose California Patients Group distributes medical 
marijuana from a store in Hollywood, said his landlord had not 
received a letter but felt threatened nonetheless. He said the store 
has been operating for a year and a half and sells to as many as 100 
patients a day.

"It's very disconcerting, frankly," he said. "It'd be a shame to work 
this hard and be shut down based on intimidation. ... Right now we're 
waiting to see what happens."

Less than 24 hours after he spoke, Duncan's dispensary was raided by 
DEA agents, Pullen said. Duncan did not answer his phone Wednesday.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake