Pubdate: Sat, 08 Oct 2011
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Declaring that California's medical marijuana law "has been hijacked 
by profiteers," U.S. prosecutors announced charges Friday against 
dispensaries, growers and financial speculators throughout the 
state's medicinal pot market.

California's four U.S. attorneys also said they have seized 
properties of landlords facilitating the marijuana trade. And they 
delivered a rhetorical indictment of medical marijuana's evolution 
into cannabis commerce.

"The California Compassionate Use Act was intended to help seriously 
ill people," said San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, referring 
to the 1996 initiative that made California the first state to 
legalize marijuana for medical use. "But the law has been hijacked by 
profiteers who are motivated not by compassion but by money."

In a Sacramento news conference, Haag and U.S. attorneys from 
Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego detailed criminal cases against 
people who they said were pocketing mountains of cash from 
dispensaries that are supposed to operate as nonprofits under state law.

The charges come as the U.S. attorneys are sending out dozens of 
letters across California, warning dispensaries and landlords of 
potential prosecution and telling them to cease selling or growing 
marijuana within 45 days.

"Our intention is not to prosecute everybody in the state," said 
Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento. "Our intention is 
to get people's attention in order to deter this activity."

On Friday, Wagner announced a criminal complaint that alleged a Los 
Angeles attorney, Nathan Hoffman, raked in millions of dollars while 
organizing a vast growing network for marijuana dispensaries in 
Southern California.

Wagner said Hoffman's "wide-ranging conspiracy to organize and 
finance major marijuana grows" brought in people such as 
prize-winning Sutter County tomato growers Thomas Jopson, 62, and 
David Jopson, 60. The brothers were indicted this summer along with 
an Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur, Yan Ebyam.

Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. also announced an 
indictment charging six people from a former North Hollywood 
dispensary, NoHo Caregivers, with illegal drug trafficking.

The L.A. indictment alleged dispensary operators, pot growers and 
alleged couriers were sending 600 to 700 pounds of purported 
California medical marijuana to New York and Pennsylvania. Birotte 
said he is seeking to seize $14.7 million in proceeds from the operation.

In another case, Birotte said he is seeking seizure of an Orange 
County strip mall, where a landlord leased space to eight marijuana 
stores across the street from a preschool.

Holding up a marijuana magazine showing a pot leaf and wads of cash, 
Birotte assailed "brick and mortar Costo/Wal-Mart dispensaries" that 
he contended are turning huge profits "in a new California Gold Rush."

Outside the Sacramento federal courthouse where the news conference 
was held, marijuana advocates, including people with doctors' 
recommendations for medicinal use, marched and chanted, "We're 
healers, not dealers."

They charged that the federal government is launching an assault on 
the will of California voters who legalized medical marijuana and on 
sick people who need places to buy it.

David Brock, a Sacramento attorney who advises marijuana dispensaries 
on how to follow California's medical marijuana law, said 
prosecutions of alleged misconduct in the industry should be dealt 
with in state court  not through federal raids.

"They (federal prosecutors) need to respect the rights of the states 
instead of coming in with these heavy-handed and bullying tactics," Brock said.

Dan Rush, whose United Food & Commercial Workers International Union 
has organized 700 medical marijuana workers in California, said the 
U.S. attorneys were broadly and unfairly tainting an industry that 
largely operates legally and professionally.

Besides providing marijuana to people with medical needs, Rush said, 
dispensaries "are providing well-paying jobs and health care to 
thousands of families in the middle of the recession."

Wagner said U.S. prosecutors in California have no intention "to 
target the backyard grows and small amounts of marijuana" cultivated 
"for use by seriously ill people." But he said pot stores are illegal 
under U.S. law.

Outside the courthouse, F. Aaron Smith, executive director of the 
Cannabis Industry Association, a Washington D.C., lobbying group, 
said dispensaries are necessary for delivering marijuana to medical users.

"If they're saying they want cancer patients growing in their 
backyards, that means we are going to have thousands of unregulated 
grows," Smith said. "What we're asking for is a legal, licensed 
regulated system ... for people to obtain their medicine."

The U.S. attorneys offered a starkly different picture.

Birotte decried Los Angeles billboards advertising services of 
medical marijuana physicians, whom he blasted as doling out medical 
recommendations "solely for the purpose of recreational use."

San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, who on Sept. 30 unsealed an 
indictment against two dispensaries and a network of growers, alleged 
the pot stores were marketing to customers under 21, including some 
likely to provide marijuana to children.

She took issue with dispensary pot treats, including "marijuana-laden 
cotton candy, flavored like bubble gum, and packaged with pictures of a clown.

"This is not a marketing campaign that is aimed at people under the 
supervision of a doctor," Duffy said.
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