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The federal government is once again ramping up its war on medical marijuana in states such as California where it is legal under state law. They have always used asset forfeiture to threaten medical marijuana dispensaries, but the new strategy appears to combine forfeiture with state and federal laws that assign greater penalties to sales of controlled substances within 1,000 feet of schools. Dispensaries in San Francisco have already received warnings from the U.S. Attorney’s office, as reported by a local ABC affiliate:

Sultan Alkhraisat owns a medical marijuana dispensary in the back of a cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. The pot club is half a block away from the San Francisco Friends School. In fact, there are several other cannabis dispensaries near Friends and two other schools.

Alkhraisat declined to be interviewed, but he did confirm that the owner of his building received a letter from the U.S. Attorney last week. It said, “there is a marijuana dispensary operating…within a prohibited distance of a school.” And that it “may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets.”

ABC7 has learned that the same letter has been sent to many other pot clubs operating in Northern California…

The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to be interviewed, but a spokesperson said they are targeting dispensaries which are operating within 1,000 feet of schools.

California Watch explains how this new strategy could destroy the semi-legitimate medical marijuana industry in California:

The U.S. attorneys from California’s four federal districts are preparing to unveil in the coming days their latest effort to push a coordinated statewide marijuana enforcement strategy. That approach includes the possible seizure of land or buildings leased to marijuana operations that may be legal under state law but remain illegal under federal statutes.

William Panzer, an Oakland attorney who co-authored Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in California, said the days are numbered for the current model for medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It’s an effective strategy because they’re basically saying to landlords, ‘If you don’t do this, then you lose your property, and we could also come after you criminally,’ ” he said.

The tactic stems from a February 2011 memorandum by the state’s four top federal prosecutors that outlines for the first time a uniform approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws in California. The document, reviewed by California Watch, offers guidance and insights into the thresholds for prosecution.

Initiated by the state’s U.S. attorneys, the statewide enforcement strategy places an emphasis on federal investigations that target “leaders and organizers of the criminal activity as opposed to lower-level workers.”


San Francisco attorney Brendan Hallinan, who represents dispensary operators and their landlords, including one who received a letter from Haag last week, said civil forfeitures have a lower threshold than criminal indictments.

“We don’t have anywhere to go if they impose federal law on medical marijuana collectives,” he said. “A lot of people are going to get picked off.”

The development is the latest in a series of actions taken by federal authorities to target the industry’s finances. Banks are cutting business ties with dispensaries, possibly under federal pressure. The Internal Revenue Service has hounded dispensaries, including Harborside Health Center in Oakland, seeking millions of dollars in back taxes.

“If we don’t get a change in the IRS ruling, every legal, regulated distributor of cannabis in the United States is going to have to go out of business, and patients will be forced back into the hands of criminals,” said Steve DeAngelo, the Oakland collective’s executive director.

Government officials know that if they can destroy the dispensaries’ finances through civil forfeiture, they don’t need to run the substantial risk of losing a criminal trial. This is just another way the federal government is employing forfeiture to sabotage state laws they dislike, undermining what little vestiges of federalism remain in this country. More on this story as it develops.

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3 Responses to “Feds Use Forfeiture as a Cudgel Against Medical Marijuana Dispensaries”

  1. [...] See the rest here: Feds Use Forfeiture as the Cudgel Against Medical Marijuana … [...]

  2. Rwolf says:

    Re: Police Civil Forfeiture of Caswell Motel

    All Real Estate agents in Tewksbury, MA should publicly be asked, to disclose to their prospective buyers of income property, that Tewksbury police are currently using civil forfeiture to seize property from innocent owners, i.e., the Caswell Motel; because of what a few guests illegally did unbeknownst to the owner; Tewksbury real estate agents should publicly be asked to disclose Tewksbury local police, could similarly seize property from innocent owners e.g. hotels, apartment buildings, RV Parks and restaurants. It would appear Tewksbury police civil forfeiture of income property from “innocent owners” materially affects all Tewksbury income property and should be disclosed to prospective income property buyers.

    Note: that police, too easily can use civil asset forfeiture to target property owners they deem undesirable, e.g. political reasons: police undercover agents can meet a drug dealer in a bar or elsewhere, then steer the drug buy to the property where the dealer rents an apartment or motel room to cause civil forfeiture of the innocent owner’s property. Consider most every income rental property in America that rents rooms, dwellings or office space, could be civilly forfeited from an innocent owner because—it isn’t possible for an “innocent owner” to know what their guests or renters are doing behind closed doors.

    If Motel Caswell is civilly forfeited in this manner, that will increasingly make it difficult for owners of motels, hotels and apartment buildings to sell their properties: fear of government / police civil asset forfeiture from innocent owners will increasingly scare off buyers for these types of properties.


    U.S. Government wants the power without a warrant, to introduce as evidence in criminal prosecutions and government civil trials, any phone call record, email or Internet activity. Alarmingly, that would open the door for Police to take out of context, any innocent—hastily written email, fax or phone call record to allege a crime or violation was committed to cause a person’s arrest, fines and or civil asset forfeiture of their property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture: Government civil asset forfeiture requires only a civil preponderance of evidence for police to forfeit property, little more than hearsay.

    If the Justice Department has its way, any information the FBI derives from (no warrant) acquisition of Web Server Records; User Internet Activity, emails; and phone records, can be used by the FBI for (fishing expeditions) to issue subpoenas in hopes of finding evidence, to prosecute Citizens for any alleged crime or violation—circumventing the Fourth Amendment. Consider: neither Congress nor the courts—determined what NSA electronic surveillance, perhaps illegal under Bush II, could be used by police or introduced into court by government to prosecute U.S. Citizens criminally or civilly. If U.S. Justice Department is permitted (No-warrant) surveillance of all electronic communications, it is problematic state and local law enforcement agencies and private government contractors will want access to prior Bush II /NSA and other government (retained electronic records) of Internet activity; emails and phone call information to secure evidence to arrest Americans and or civilly forfeit their homes, businesses and other assets under Title 18USC and other laws. Of obvious concern, what happens to fair justice in America if police become dependent on “Asset Forfeiture” to help pay their salaries and budget operating costs?

    The “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” (effectively eliminated) the “five year statue of limitations” for Government Civil Asset Forfeiture: the statute now runs five years (from the date) police allege they “learned” an asset became subject to forfeiture. It is foreseeable should (no warrant electronic surveillance) be approved; police will relentlessly sift through Citizen and businesses’ (government stored Internet data), emails and phone communications to discover alleged crimes or civil violations. A corrupt/despot U.S. Government may too easily use no-warrant- (seized emails, Internet data and phone call information) to blackmail Americans, corporations and others in the same manner Hitler utilized his earlier passed police state laws to later extort members of parliament, corporations and the wealthy to support passage of Hitler’s 1933 Discriminatory Decrees that suspended the Constitutional Freedoms of German Citizens. A Nazi Government threat of Civil Asset Forfeiture of an individual or corporation’s assets was usually sufficient to ensure Nazi support.

    Under U.S. federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property. Most U.S. Citizens, property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” This defense can become a “Catch 22” a criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial of guilt made to government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do the crime” may “involuntarily waive” a defendant’s right to assert in their defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” past for prosecution; any fresh denial of guilt even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence; including information discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding to launch a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent Americans, property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture.

    Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579. U.S. See paragraph (6) at:

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