Federal prosecutors have launched a crackdown on California medical marijuana dispensaries, but it's unclear whether any pot clubs in Sonoma County are targeted.
The enforcement push appears to be aimed at large-scale operators, said William Panzer, an Oakland attorney who represents Marvin's Gardens Herbal Cooperative, a Guerneville dispensary.
U.S. attorneys sent letters this week to at least 16 pot clubs or landlords warning them to shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges and confiscation of their property, even if they are operating under the state's 15-year-old medical marijuana law.
Marvin's Gardens wasn't one of them, Panzer said.
In an escalation of the ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and the nation's burgeoning medical marijuana industry, the prosecutors said they are violating federal drug laws, even though medical marijuana is legal in California.
The state's four U.S. attorneys are scheduled to announce a broader coordinated crackdown at a Friday news conference.
Their offices refused to confirm the closure orders. The Associated Press obtained copies of the letters that a prosecutor sent to at least 12 San Diego dispensaries. They state that federal law "takes precedence over state law and applies regardless of the particular uses for which a dispensary is selling and distributing marijuana.
"Under United States law, a dispensary's operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions," letters signed by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in San Diego read.
"Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States ... regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary."
The move comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana following a two-year period during which federal officials had indicated they would not move aggressively against dispensaries in compliance with laws in the 16 states where pot is legal for people with doctors' recommendations.
A directory of medical marijuana dispensaries shows a dozen in Sonoma County, mostly in unincorporated territory. Santa Rosa and Sebastopol each have one marijuana club.
The federal government seems to be pressuring large-scale dispensaries, said Panzer, who co-authored Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in California.
Earlier this year, a federal memorandum suggested prosecutors would target distributors selling at least 200 kilograms of marijuana a year and dispensaries that are near schools and parks. They would<NO1><NO> also target pot clubs violating state or local laws or using profits to fund other criminal activities.
"It's very possible we are going to see a shift from large centralized dispensaries to smaller patient cooperatives," Panzer said.
Lisa Gygax, a Forestville attorney who represents Organic Cannabis Foundation on Todd Road, said the dispensary hasn't received one of the warning letters.
But the threat seems serious, she said. "They're trying to scare everybody into closing," Gygax said. "I believe this is the new federal blitzkrieg. They are really going to take some people down."
The crackdown is a disappointing turnabout for President Obama, she said. "It's the most outrageous betrayal of a voting bloc that Obama has done," Gygax said.
Dan Beck, a Santa Rosa attorney who represents three dispensaries, said his clients have not <NO1><NO>received letters<NO1><NO>. But he said the federal campaign "will have a chilling effect" on locally <NO1><NO>regulated pot clubs. "It's going to cause landlords and property owners not to rent or sell to them," he said.