Pressure from the Justice Department is forcing a fourth San Francisco medical marijuana dispensary to close early next year, with a fifth closure expected soon thereafter.
Market Street Cooperative -- one of the city's lowest-profile cannabis dispensaries, with a modest sign outside its 1884 Market location -- will close at 7 p.m. on Jan. 9, its operators announced Thursday.
The dispensary's landlord received a letter from U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag in November warning of property forfeiture and criminal penalties if the dispensary continued to "distribute illegal drugs." Similar letters sent in September prodded three dispensaries to close in early November. A fifth dispensary, Sanctuary on O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin, received a letter over Thanksgiving and is expected to shutter soon.
Meanwhile, multiple unlicensed delivery services -- which operate without city dispensary permits, business permits, or state tax certificates -- have continued to operate without intervention from local, state, or federal law enforcement, according to cannabis advocates.
Market Street Cooperative had "just been informed" of the letter to its landlord, according to a statement issued via the Web and Facebook.
"Our hope is that our closure is temporary," the statement reads. "We hope that our current federal administration will reconsider its attack on California's medical cannabis patients and caregivers and stick to its promise to allow law abiding cooperatives, such as Market Street Cooperative, to again provide affordable medical cannabis."
President Barack Obama had promised on the campaign trail not to interfere with state-law-abiding medical marijuana cultivators and providers, and a Justice Department memo issued in late 2009 seemed to echo that sentiment. Since then, however, several cannabis providers have been sentenced to terms in federal prison, and state-law-abiding farms and storefront collectives have been raided by federal agents in multiple states.
The closed dispensaries -- Medithrive on Mission Street, Mr. Nice Guy on Valencia Street, and Divinity Tree on Geary Boulevard-- were closed because they were within 1,000 feet of parks or schools, according to Haag. State law allows a dispensary to operate within 600 feet of a school.
Several parks, including Duboce, are within close proximity to Market Steet Cooperative. A telephone message left at the dispensary was not immediately returned. A spokesman for Haag, Jack Gillund, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
Justice Department officials have said that the office's "limited resources" are being used to close "illegal pot shops" close to where "children congregate or play." Advocates like Stephanie Tucker, spokeswoman for the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force, fear that such a broad definition could be used to close all of San Francisco's medical cannabis dispensaries.
The city began permitting dispensaries in 2005. There were 27 permitted dispensaries in San Francisco before the four United States attorneys for California announced a coordinated crackdown on the state's "illegal marijuana industry" on Oct. 7.
Nearly all dispensaries in San Diego and Sacramento are believed to have closed under federal pressure, according to Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana patients' advocacy group. One in Marin has also closed, and another in Oakland has relocated. No dispensaries in San Jose or Los Angeles, where hundreds of storefront dispensaries operate, have closed.
A state court decision has led San Francisco and other municipalities to cease permitting new dispensaries. The state Supreme Court will choose whether to hear an appeal on the decision, Pack v. the city of Long Beach, in February.
A year ago, representatives from The Green Cross, which was at that time the city's lone delivery-only cannabis dispensary, provided to city officials a list of marijuana delivery services which did not have city permits, which seemingly violated local and state law. We Googled many of these providers to find out whether they are still in business as of today, and it appears they are.
"These unlicensed and unregulated providers present a problem for the city of San Francisco and those of us that support [city medical marijuana law] and other measures to control and regulate community-based access," said Caren Woodson, a spokeswoman for the Green Cross. "To the extent these operations refuse to subject themselves to the scrutiny and regulation provided by our local law, they undermine our local law and create un-level field of play for those collectives that have sought to play by the rules."
Federal officials could neither "confirm nor deny" any action on closing these state-law-violating marijuana providers.
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