The medical marijuana crackdowns in MMJ states like California and Colorado have forced a number of dispensaries to close their doors. In their continued efforts to eradicate medical marijuana collectives, federal officials are now putting the pressure on the landlords who lease the storefronts to the shop owners. Landlords are being told that they must force the collectives to shut down or face having their real estate seized as a part of a civil statute which is designed to seize the assets of drug-trafficking organizations.
By targeting landlords rather than collective owners directly, federal officials hope that collective owners will be evicted from their physical locations. This puts the heat on the landlords and takes attention away from the fact that the feds are trying to shut down the states’ medical marijuana industries. The federal government is able to avoid a potential PR-nightmare by putting the responsibility of closing down the shops into the hands of the actual property owners.
According to Greg Baldwin, a former federal prosecutor, “Filing asset-forfeiture lawsuits against these commercial properties is a very clever way to handle an otherwise horrible difficult and controversial situation. If you bring criminal charges against these medical marijuana businesses, the federal government gets pilloried in the press for attacking California law and sick people.”
This tactic is similar to one employed by the feds in late 2011, in which they threatened banks that did business with medical marijuana companies. Because medical marijuana is illegal under federal law, federally insured banks even in states where it’s legal were notified that if they worked with medical marijuana businesses, they would be putting themselves at risk of racketeering and money laundering charges, due to the fact that marijuana is a “high-risk are for money laundering.”
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, believes that these tactics are being used because the Justice Department has been instructed by President Barack Obama not to directly go after medical marijuana, but they also feel as though they cannot ignore the issue and risk having their reputation diminished. The Justice Department does not want to appear as though they approve of the sale and use of a federally illegal drug, so they are using roundabout methods in order to shut down the medical marijuana industry.
Last week, dozens of property owners in California received warning letters, threatening asset-forfeiture lawsuits if they continued to house medical marijuana businesses on their property. Hundreds of similar letters have been sent to other business owners throughout the state in the past few months.
Since California is viewed by many as being at the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, these actions against property owners could signal a trend that will proliferate other medical marijuana states if it is found to be successful. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 17 states as well as the District of Columbia.