As California courts and government officials try to unsnarl conflicting state
and local laws on medical marijuana, U.S. attorneys are sending a clear
message to anyone who rents property to a pot dispensary: We can and will
seize your property.
The state's four U.S. attorneys in October began sending warning letters to medical marijuana dispensary operators and owners of the properties they occupy, including some in the Inland area. In some cases, the U.S. attorneys filed civil asset forfeiture lawsuits.
Steven Welk, chief of asset forfeiture for the U.S. attorney's central district of California, gave an update on those efforts at a Thursday meeting of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce.
Out of hundreds of cases his agency has reviewed, Welk said, they found maybe one dispensary operator who owned the property rather than leasing. Under federal law, authorities can seize property linked to criminal activity, he said.
"(Asset forfeiture) is the most potent weapon that the federal government has, particularly with respect to drug policy," Welk said.
Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos, who invited Welk to speak to the chamber, has sought to close all marijuana facilities in the city using court injunctions. In January, he and Police Chief Sergio Diaz asked U.S. attorneys to provide enforcement help in Riverside to close remaining dispensaries.
California voters approved the medical use of marijuana in 1996, but state law is currently a mess, with conflicting court rulings on whether local governments can ban or merely regulate dispensaries. The state Supreme Court has agreed to review several appeals court rulings on marijuana cases, including one brought by Priamos.
"From my point of view, I really don't care what the current state of the law is in the state of California, because there's no ambiguity whatsoever with respect to federal law," Welk said. "Marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law."
Medical marijuana supporters have decried the federal crackdown, arguing it is a state issue and closing dispensaries will force legitimate users to turn to illegal sources.
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