Medical marijuana crackdown gets reaction from those in industry

Even without letter, for-profit facilities not OK, U.S. Attorney spokeswoman says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A recent directive from the federal government telling several California medical marijuana facilities to shut their doors inspired locals connected to the industry to speak out. According to Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, the office has issued letters to close to 50 medical marijuana facilities. “(This happened) because the U.S. Attorneys felt the need for it,” Horwood said. “It has been in the process for awhile and it seemed that as the illegal operations were becoming more and more prolific that something needs to be done by the federal government.” Horwood said the office does not have a stated policy for what facilities they are targeting, but they are part of the for-profit marijuana industry. “In federal law there is no distinction, all marijuana is illegal,” she said. “They are targeting commercial sized growing operations and distributing operations. They have made a point of saying they are not going after a cancer patient with a few pots in the backyard.” While no facilities in Placer County have been contacted yet, that does not mean they will not be, Horwood said. “So far that is not one of the counties we have sent them to,” Horwood said. “That could change, and it’s important that people know that just because you don’t get a letter, doesn’t mean you are OK. The purpose of the press event last Friday was to let everyone know if you are distributing marijuana, you are out of compliance with federal law.” Jim Henry, board member of the Golden State Patient Care collective in Colfax, said the U.S. Attorney Office’s decision doesn’t make sense to him. “It’s really hard to understand why for me,” Henry said. “We have been here quite awhile and been threatened before, the landlord, with a letter. I can understand them wanting to close the facilities that are being run … less than legal. We pay our taxes and we are just mom-and-pop, and I think we are a very low priority on their list.” Henry said he thinks this is an example of the federal government wasting its money. “Our politicians should be ashamed,” Henry said. “I think the pharmaceutical companies are lobbying in Washington (D.C.) to keep it a schedule 1 drug. It’s not heroine. That’s ridiculous. It’s bad enough for the government to ignore the will of the people, but for them to create the suffering, I’m ashamed.” Although he did not want to comment on how many patients would be affected if the collective had to close, he said he has seen hundreds of patients a week on crutches, in wheelchairs and on oxygen tanks who come to the collective for the medical marijuana. Henry said he could understand some operations needing to be shut down. “They need to wean some out,” he said. “There are some guys that are doing horrible things to this industry. They are growing thousands of plants. We don’t, we have a membership here. We have been trying really hard to uphold the rules and even stay a step ahead.” Dr. Sean Devlin, a physician at Highland Springs Wellness Center in Grass Valley, which sometimes recommends patients take medical marijuana, said the state law that makes medical marijuana legal, should protect the facilities the federal government is trying to close. “They are totally out of order and there is no right for them to do that,” Devlin said. “State law is actually superior to federal law. You can monkey with certain facilities within the state under the current federal law, which basically says it’s illegal to manufacture and distribute medical marijuana, but ultimately state law protects those people, how it is written.” Horwood said it is the position of the office that federal law has supremacy. Those who are directed to close their facilities and don’t do so could face civil charges and criminal charges, which could result in prison time. Devlin said he thinks there are other things the federal government should be paying more attention to currently. Those who can no longer get medical marijuana from facilities may turn to the street to get it illegally, and if they can’t grow it on their own, they may have to go without, Devlin said. “When those start to close, they are going to be directly impacted,” he said. “I think it’s a sad commentary on the situation about the state’s rights versus the federal government.” Reach Bridget Jones at ----------------------------------------------------- What local law enforcement says Local law enforcement officials said when it comes to medical marijuana related enforcement, they will continue to follow the state law. “It is the feds that have put this through, and so they are moving ahead with their enforcement … but as far as the (Placer County) Sheriff’s Department goes, we are business as usual, so to speak,” said Lt. Mark Reed, spokesman for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said the directive doesn’t seem like a surprise. “I think everybody knew this was in direct contradiction with federal law and the possibility of this occurring was in place,” Ruffcorn said. Ruffcorn said the department will continue to follow the state law and Auburn municipal code in its enforcement. “We do not have the ability to enforce federal law,” he said. “If we come across situations where federal laws have been broken, then we either contact the (Drug Enforcement Administration), or (Federal Bureau of Investigations) or one of our federal partners. We are still guided by state laws and that won’t change.” Special Agent Steve Dupree, public information officer for the FBI in Sacramento, said it is unlikely the agency would be opening cases on this topic and the DEA would be the one to take the lead on them.