Feds Try to Handcuff Bay Area Dispensaries

Don't call Lynette Shaw paranoid. They're definitely out to get her.

Shaw operates Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which has sold state-authorized marijuana out of a tiny Fairfax storefront since 1996 and is likely the state's oldest medical cannabis dispensary. Shaw also runs the only dispensary to survive federal prosecution: all of the other six defendants in 1998's U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative et al., including San Francisco pot icon Dennis Peron's Cannabis Healing Center, are gone.

That's one reason Shaw thinks that she now finds herself in the unique position of fending off two federal agencies attempting to do what Bill Clinton's Department of Justice could not. Already locked in a battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which told her in March she cannot claim the cost of marijuana on her federal tax return, Shaw was one of four Bay Area dispensaries to receive letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whom Barack Obama appointed as the Bay Area's top federal prosecutor in 2010. The letters set a deadline of Nov. 21 for the dispensaries to shut down, or risk asset forfeiture proceedings against their landlords and up to 40 years in prison for the operators.

The letters are part of a significant backtracking from Obama's campaign-trail promise that state-law-abiding medical marijuana was not a federal law enforcement priority.

In a statement e-mailed to the press this week, Haag's office says it is "focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers. Individuals involved in the commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain a core priority.” No other comment was offered. “I can't believe Obama did this to me, and my patients,” says Shaw, who says she suffers from “non-military PTSD” and uses marijuana in order to be able to function. “I don't want to be sick again, my patients don't want to be sick -- it's just so mean and so wrong -- it's a terrible lie, and I can't believe Obama is behind it,” she says, sobbing into the telephone during a recent interview.

The government's strategy appears to be working: Two of the three San Francisco dispensaries that received letters announced last week plans to shut down, and a proposed dispensary for the city's Marina District said it had put its application on hold. Though the government seizing a state-law-abiding landlord's property might be unpopular — "It would be a public relations nightmare," says San Francisco attorney Kenneth Wine — the feds appear serious. A lawyer in Haag's office told Wine that the forfeiture proceedings are drafted, and that more letters to dispensaries are in the works.

Yet not everyone in the Bay Area is backing off. On Oct. 14, Oakland accepted 12 applications for four new dispensary permits.

Shaw hopes to use this opportunity to drag the nation's pot laws themselves into court. "In this country, you can't base a law on a lie," says Shaw, referring to the Drug Enforcement Administration's classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. "That means it has no medical value, it's highly dangerous, cannot be prescribed safely, and is not recognized as medicine anywhere in the U.S.," she says. "Those four things are all lies — we just need a federal judge to rule on it."

Stephen DeAngelo, CEO of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, was told earlier this month that Harborside is $2.5 million in arrears to the IRS. He too plans to take the feds to court, to have a judge rule on the validity of the IRS' application of a section of tax code meant to punish cocaine traffickers. "I'm looking forward to my own kind of bully pulpit," he told SF Weekly. "We're going to present our case to the American people, to the courts, and to Congress. This will be a huge, huge decision."

It's a heartening stance, but until Congress changes marijuana's legal status, it's also a long shot, according to Wine. "The law is stacked in the federal government's favor," he says. "Federal law on marijuana is totally unforgiving."

Nobody seems to know why Obama's lawyers are targeting taxpayers rather than street dealers — to whom the state's marijuana users will turn for their pot if the storefronts close. "The federal government says they're protecting the children, and that may be true," Wine says. "But in the meantime, they're denying a lot of sick people their medicine."

 
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12 comments
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ghandi69
ghandi69

Since Oct 7th when this new Fed intervention was announced, prices have started to rise and it's back to the old 'dealer' routine. The violence in Mexico just keeps elevating... with the 26 men found dead just a few days ago...The Drug Policy of the Federal Government just keeps the blood bath flowing...Imagine for a minute being a child in Mexico and being exposed to decapitations, boiled in acid, or oil ...men lined up and shot...all to supply the USA's insatiable demand for drugs. There has to be a new level of leadership on this issue. These Federal Prosecutors have done NOTHING to slow the demand, use or violence. Obama should be ASHAMED.

ghandi69
ghandi69

This is really sad the Feds have gone straight for the heart of Domestic Cannabis... Hundreds die in Mexico every month in a brutal fashion...and the people here in California forging out a new order of law abiding positive Cannabis use have been thrown under the bus by Obama and his insatiable appetite to please Corporate America. Not to mention the DEA and their survival depends on keeping this country engaged in a futile, yet extremely profitable "War on Drugs". Its all about the money...and as soon as Corporate America can get the noose around the Ganja Bush will the pressure come off and big business will legitimize Cannabis. Remember when the Busch Family were bootleggers?? Now one of the richest families in the USA. Today the dispensaries...tomorrow the Mom and Pop Medical Gardens....

srslystoplyingtoyrself
srslystoplyingtoyrself

Finally, the government has decided to open their eyes and gather their backbones to confront these sham apothecaries. Dispensing illegal substances under the guise of medication should never have been tolerated. If the people of the United States wanted legal marijuana they would vote for it.

roland
roland

yeah they would vote for it, but they have never had the chance to. the war on drugs is a farcical and endless war, it is illegitimate and completely stupid. people have used marijuana as a medicine, and a recreational herb for 50,000 years. no one has the authority to decide what you can (i.e. very harmful, untested prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco) and can't (benign plants such as cannabis) use.

Jordan Boogie
Jordan Boogie

We did vote for it .Ever heard of prop 215?lol your a fool

ghandi69
ghandi69

Its people like you that have blood all over them for supporting a failed Drug Policy for the past 45 years. Shame

Ron Peralta
Ron Peralta

The people of the U.S. did vote to legalize medical marijuana in California and several other states. Who's lying to themselves?

Elizabeth Frantes
Elizabeth Frantes

Remember, the state law is such that it's legal for patients to buy from the 'street' . .. . perhaps our Federal leaders are paying back some favors to the drug cartels, and forcing patients to buy from them? What's next? Will all the patients on the state ID list lose Federal benefits, SSI, housing, etc? Will patient records, required by SF law, be used against the patients by the Feds? Will our local leaders stop making billions off the clubs and then letting the Feds keep attacking us? With friends like our local politicos, who needs terrorists?

James Burtnett
James Burtnett

VETERANS UNITE AGAINST THE FORKED TONGUE OF OUR GOVERNMENT ALL VETERANS STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS WE OWN THIS COUNTRY AND OR GOVERNMENT IS OUR SLAVE NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!

Vincent Von Dudler
Vincent Von Dudler

We've never been this close to the repeal of federal prohibition of marijuana. NOW is the time to demand it!1) EVERYONE that sees these links sign up at both sites and weigh in on the debate- http://pvox.co/CdiFqY- http://wh.gov/gDQ2) Propagate those two links and ensure that everyone that sees them go to both those sites.

"[Prohibition] attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes." - Abraham Lincoln

 
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