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Marijuana Shops Closing Amid Federal Crackdown

Evening Edition

Local and federal authorities have both been cracking down on San Diego medical marijuana dispensaries in recent weeks. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr looks at what impact the federal action is likely to have.

Aired 10/24/11 on KPBS News.

Marijuana Shops Closing Amid Federal Crackdown

— The San Diego Medical marijuana industry is in upheaval after the federal government announced a crackdown on California dispensaries.

A marijuana plant from the home of medical marijuana advocate Dennis Peron.
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Above: A marijuana plant from the home of medical marijuana advocate Dennis Peron.

Moni Osborne is the director of the SDTMC Dispensary, one of about 180 that had been operating in the city. Osborne has tried to diversify her business on Morena Blvd. by selling teas and offering other alternative health treatments. But her landlord received a letter from the U.S. Attorney telling him to get rid of the dispensaries on his property or face the risk of losing that property. He told Osborne she has to go.

"I feel heartbroken for my patients," Osborne said. "We’ve been able to establish free chiropractic. We’ve been able to establish free yoga and free acupuncture for people who otherwise would never have had an opportunity to experience those healing modalities. So I’m very saddened and confused by the nature of the federal involvement."

Osborne said she only got into the medical marijuana business after President Barack Obama said he wouldn’t use federal resources to go after the industry.

Under California law, patients and caregivers who collectively cultivate marijuana for medical use won’t be subject to arrest. But what qualifies as a collective is up for debate.

Attorney Jessica McElfresh represents the Patient Care Associate, a medical marijuana advocacy group. The group believes San Diego’s dispensaries are operating within the boundaries of the law. McElfresh said the group is trying to reach out to lawmakers to get the feds to ease up. And she said they’re reaching out to landlords too.

"Many of the landlords have been willing to listen and to reach out and to try to get the policy changed back. And for the moment that’s the posture we’re in," she said. "We believe that we’re going to be able to turn this back with a significant public outcry. And, you can’t reach through the mail and pull the letter back out, but basically get the policy changed."

But the medical marijuana industry may be in for a tough fight. Laura Duffy is the U.S. Attorney for California’s Southern District. She said things have veered widely from the original intent of California’s medical marijuana law.

"This industry is becoming more along the lines of drug trafficking, in large part, than it is about providing medicine to the sick," Duffy said.

According to Duffy, a core mission of the Department of Justice is to go after drug traffickers. She said the government will not pursue truly sick patients who grow marijuana in their homes. But she said California’s storefront pot shops are a clear violation of the law and most don’t actually fit the definition of a collective.

"Dispensaries, they’re often called, they’re marijuana stores that are open storefronts. People can come in, they can receive marijuana in exchange for, you call it a donation, a payment, whatever you want to call it. That’s something different from a collective," she said. "And those marijuana stores are not authorized under state law."

Duffy said her office will continue to send out letters like this one to dispensaries that she believes violate state law.

But Alex Kreit said we’ve seen this kind of federal action before and it was largely unsuccessful. He’s a professor at Thomas Jefferson Law School and the former chair of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force. He said the Bush administration vigorously went after dispensaries.

"Their position was this is illegal for any purpose. They were raiding people, prosecuting people all over the state," he said. "And, by the time Bush left office, there were, it appears, between 500 and 1,000 dispensaries openly operating in California. Many, many more than when Bush came into office."

Kreit said he doesn’t believe this latest crackdown will have much impact either.

But that may be little comfort to Moni Osborne. She said she’ll have to lay off four full time employees and say goodbye to 2,000 patients. And she now has less than 45 days to close up shop.

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Avatar for user 'ConservativeChristian'

ConservativeChristian | October 24, 2011 at 10:21 a.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. None of us would want our child thrown in jail with the sexual predators over marijuana. None of us would want to see an older family member’s home confiscated and sold by the police for growing a couple of marijuana plants for their aches and pains. It’s time to stop putting our own family members in jail over marijuana.
If ordinary Americans could grow a little marijuana in their own back yards, it would be about as valuable as home-grown tomatoes. Let's put the criminals out of business and get them out of our neighborhoods. Let's let ordinary Americans grow a little marijuana in their own back yards.
You can email your Congressperson and Senators at to discuss HR 2306, the bill that would repeal Federal prohibition.
And a big THANK YOU to the courageous, freedom loving legislators, governors, and countless others who are working so hard to bring this through! You’re doing a great patriotic service for all of America!

Here's one way that IT IS REALLY WORKING: Arresting the criminals and collecting a fee from registered growers (and bringing in thousands of dollars to support the county budget); what a great plan! This is the way to build a better America!

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | October 24, 2011 at 11:41 a.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

What "storefront" dispensaries? Without knowing the addresses, our "representatives" could drive through the city all day and not identify a single dispensary. It is also ridiculous to say medical marijuana users can grow their own in their "backyards." Apartment and condo residents don't have backyards, nor do many homeowners have a suitable area. Also, growing marijuana is not the equivalent of growing tomatoes; it needs at least a modicum of expertise. That people in pain and/or on in years should be expected to be manning shovels is similarly unreasonable and stupid. The documentary "Prohibition" could easily have had marijuana as its subject. New York passed a law making the (considerable) punishment the same for carrying a hip flask of whiskey and carrying a concealed weapon.

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Avatar for user 'jway'

jway | October 24, 2011 at 2:05 p.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

We have a right to know that our laws are based on logic, and we have a right to know that our laws create more good than harm. The federal marijuana prohibition fails on both these counts.

Eight hundred and fifty thousand people a year are arrested for possessing marijuana, meanwhile, six thousand people a day start using marijuana for the first time. The prohibition does *not* prevent people from buying, selling and using marijuana.

It was sheer madness of President Nixon to create a massive illegal market for marijuana and then try to contain the violence and smuggling that it generated. A far saner plan would’ve been to prevent the illegal market from forming in the first place by allowing supermarkets to sell legally-grown marijuana to adults at prices low enough to prevent illegal competition (the same successful policy we use for beer and wine).

We parents do NOT need to support the failed policies of President Nixon! He is long gone now and our responsibility is to the safety of our children. Our only choices on this issue are to have drug dealers selling marijuana to kids, or to have supermarkets selling marijuana to adults. As a parent, I choose the latter.

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Avatar for user 'equilibrium19'

equilibrium19 | October 24, 2011 at 6:49 p.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

Why are my tax dollars going in to destroy legitimate medical marijuana operations? This is your money paying for these threads and raids people.

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Avatar for user 'equilibrium19'

equilibrium19 | October 24, 2011 at 6:50 p.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

threats and raids*

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 25, 2011 at 12:10 a.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

Who, exactly, do our "Representatives" represent?

Obviously not the people.

This is more about feeding our multi-billion dollar prison-industrial complex than anything else.

The failed 'War on Drugs' has created an entire multi-billion dollar industry based on going after marijuana use. Even though this 'War on Drugs' has not decreased marijuana use in the slightest, it has provided employment security for law enforcement. The Feds don't want to give this up, and the Prison unions/Police unions/others with their grubby fingers in the pot of the tax-payer funded 'War on Drugs' gravy train will lobby to keep marijuana erroneously classified as a schedule 1 drug.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | October 25, 2011 at 12:12 a.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

"Despite 50 years of prohibition against marijuana in the United States, figures confirm that marijuana is ranked among corn, wheat, and soybeans as one of the four main cash crops grown in terms of dollar volume of sales."

Yeah, Government, your 'War on Drugs' is really worth the $$, isn't it?

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Avatar for user 'LBCUCLA'

LBCUCLA | October 25, 2011 at 12:55 p.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

The reality of this situation is that the federal government is missing the big picture: The people of California do not want our state government wasting our resources supporting the marijuana prohibition. WE DON'T CARE IF PEOPLE USE POT! Everyone that voted for prop 215 realized what was going to happen. We're not idiots! Once we, and I do mean we the people of California, decided to allow marijuana to be tolerated for "Medical" use we knew it would allow greater access to the plant for "recreational" use. Everyone knew that using the term "medical" was just way to convince the right-wing conservative extremists to ease up on marijuana laws. Yes, it's true, there are hundreds of known medical uses for the plant, but that's not real issue here. The federal government is setting aside our state rights to ensure they don't look stupid. Everyone knows that keeping marijuana a schedule 1 drug is a mistake. This is a power game and the biggest bullies on the block are winning.
Lastly, who is Laura Duffy to decide what constitutes medical use?? Is she a trained physician with a strong understanding what ailments could be treated for by the use of medical marijuana? NO! She's a lawyer and a political puppet for for the federal government. People that use substances on a daily basis, more times than not, have medical issues. Maybe they're not terminally ill, under the technical definition, but they hurt and marijuana helps their pain. I suppose having them drink themselves into a alcohol induced coma is better? Most of the people that I have known to marijuana daily was because of some deep seeded personal ailment. It could be as simple as being rejected by their peers to severe parental abuse. Does it really matter?!?! Who are you, Laura Duffy, to tell anyone that the reason they use marijuana is anything other than making life just a little easier to cope with. Physicians diagnose and prescribe based on quality of life. YOU, Laura Duffy, are not qualified to determine if someone is suffering or using purely for "recreational" use. You are our representative and are supposed to support our state rights. We don't care about your opinion on recreational vs medical; let our trained physicians decide if someones quality of life, or lack thereof, requires "medication".

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Avatar for user 'Derbygirl'

Derbygirl | October 27, 2011 at 9:32 a.m. ― 5 years, 5 months ago

The experimental model of allowing dispensaries to open and operate has proven to be a dismal failure. Illegal sales, accessibility to minors, abuse, money laundering, increased crime, bogus medical marijuana cards issued by doctors on suspended licenses, and the numerous legal battles that ensued from all of the above have proven that the country cannot yet handle this issue responsibly. The infighting between those that want pot legal and those who only want it medically has contributed to it's downfall as well.

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Avatar for user 'TheTruth'

TheTruth | October 29, 2011 at 1:35 p.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

Just another thing that proves We The People's opinions mean absolutely nothing. Protect and serve is the exact opposite of what is going on, shutting down MEDICAL DISPENSARIES and imprisoning people will do way more harm than them selling meicine to people. All these people against marijuana should see the real harm and damage to anybody through our medical system is the pharmaceutical industry which accounts for thousands and thousands of deaths every year but in the known 10,000 years of marijuana use there has not been a single death and honestley it is so much easier for a child to simply get those pills that "help" their parents right out of the medicine cabinet in the bathroom than it is to go and get your medical card and get marijuana which wouldn't even harm them even if they did. Marijuana is still a schedule one "narcotic" which says it has no known medical use while schedule two narcotics that suposeably have medical use are drugs like COCAINE, METH, OPIUM and many many other drugs that cause addiction and death in many cases whether be used "medically" or recreationally. IT'S TIME FOR EVERYBODY TO WAKE UP AND SEE THE REAL PROBLEMS IN THIS COUNTRY.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | October 30, 2011 at 11:34 a.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

@Derbygirl. You write, "Illegal sales, accessibility to minors, abuse, money laundering, increased crime, bogus medical marijuana cards issued by doctors on suspended licenses, and the numerous legal battles that ensued from all of the above." A wise person said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts," which you have done. Please tell us where we can find the truth of what you claim, It might help if you become directly aware of how dispensaries operate, and how "accessible" they are to minors. There may have been the rare dishonest dispensary, but in what area of life is there zero breaking of laws? (See: Hospitals that falsify Medicare claims;l Banks that forge loan documents; Corrupt politicians, ad infinitum). Perhaps if you suffered pain that no longer responds to (legal) opioids, but was eased by marijuane you'd think differently. (Not really, you are surely a person whose mind is made up, don't confuse you with facts.)

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | October 30, 2011 at 11:51 a.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

The documentary "Prohibition" showed that when the incumbent President feared a tough re-election campaign, and wanted to appeal to "Conservative" voters, his Prohibition Chief order highly publicized raids against 149 New York City speakeasies that had priorto operated openly (people knew that banning alcohol was silly and impossible.)
Obama is in campaign mode. He and his Attorney General suddenly reverse their positions on medical marijuana (AG Holder had said he had better uses for his resources, Obama had declared he would not interfere with medical marijuana where states had authorized it) with highly publicized "crackdowns." History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 2, 2011 at 9:22 a.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

@jway, yup, that's when it started--and we're still paying dearly for a poor policy.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 2, 2011 at 9:27 a.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

Len, what you write is 100% true. However, like nearly all Conservatives, you see yourselves as well as liberals as "monolithic blocs." Congressman Filner has now come out in OPPOISTION to the Obama policy reversal on medical marihuana.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | November 2, 2011 at 1:31 p.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

What did I write that would make you think I'm a Conservative? I'm as far from them as is possible. I'd no idea Filner favored the administration's position on mariJanua, or that he reversed it, nor do I care. What's your point.
You agree with Jway that Nixon began the federal government anti-marijuana crackdowns. Jway is at least 50 years late, as you'd both learn if you research the subject.

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Avatar for user 'arleneotr'

arleneotr | November 10, 2011 at 2:57 p.m. ― 5 years, 4 months ago

I am outraged that at a time when our state needs funds and people need jobs we are closing legal medical marijuana dispensaries. My son has Multiple Sclerosis. He has done everything by the books in order to have this very effective medicinal. Why is he being punished?
I feel a protest coming on!

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