Pubdate: Sat, 04 Feb 2012
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Alicia Robinson



Two top Riverside officials are asking U.S. attorneys to enforce the 
federal marijuana ban in their city, as the feds have in other 
Southern California communities during a recent crackdown on medical 
marijuana operations.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are forbidden by Riverside city 
zoning. Since 2010, the city has been seeking to close the facilities 
by filing lawsuits in civil court, and City Attorney Greg Priamos 
said this week he's been able to shut down about 30 dispensaries.

Marijuana was legalized for medical use by California voters in 1996, 
but federal law bans the drug. In October, the state's four U.S. 
attorneys began a crackdown they described as targeting commercial 
distribution of marijuana.

Dispensaries in French Valley and Wildomar have been shut down in 
recent months, others in the Inland area have received warning 
letters, and federal officials have filed civil and criminal actions 
against dispensary operators and property owners who rent to them.

Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos and police Chief Sergio Diaz 
want such enforcement in their city. In a letter dated Jan. 26 and 
made public by Priamos this week, Priamos and Diaz asked U.S. 
Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., who has jurisdiction over the Inland 
area, for assistance "in combating the illegal storefront marijuana 
distribution in the city of Riverside that openly flouts federal, 
state and local law."

The letter details the city's efforts to ban medical marijuana 
facilities and shut them down, and it describes the facilities as 
"for-profit entities that have become targets for criminal activity," 
citing three robberies at Riverside dispensaries in 2011. About 15 
dispensaries are still operating in Riverside, according to the letter.

Priamos said Thursday he had not received an answer from Birotte's 
office. Riverside wants federal authorities to step in because they 
"have remedies at their disposal that are not available to the city 
of Riverside," such as seizing the assets of the dispensary operators 
and their landlords, Priamos said.

U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a phone message that 
the office does not comment on correspondence.

The recent crackdown on dispensaries "is forcing patients to turn to 
criminal sources," said medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow, 
who founded a Riverside dispensary sued by the city in a case that 
will next be heard by the state Supreme Court. That case is expected 
to settle whether cities can use zoning to ban dispensaries.

"I am disappointed that the city of Riverside feels it necessary to 
involve the federal government in what is essentially a state issue," 
Swerdlow said.

In Wildomar, where a dispensary closed in November shortly after 
becoming the target of a federal asset forfeiture lawsuit, city 
officials are glad U.S. attorneys became involved. The city has a ban 
on dispensaries and had filed a cease-and-desist order against the 
facility, to no avail, Councilwoman Marsha Swanson said.

The city didn't seek federal help, she said.

"We appreciated it. It made a difference," she added.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom