Federal prosecutors are targeting medical marijuana shops in California, seeking forfeiture of the properties in which they do business.
The authorities are pressuring landlords to shut down the shops or face possible loss of the real estate through the unconventional and low-key use of a civil statute designed primarily to seize the assets of drug-trafficking organizations.
While some states, including California, have legalized medical marijuana businesses, the federal government does not recognize their authority to do so and has targeted the shops for violations of the 40-year-old Controlled Substances Act.
The goal of the Justice Department's effort, part of a crackdown announced last October, is to fight the medical marijuana industry, estimated at $1.7 billion annually, without confronting it head-on with costly and potentially embarrassing criminal prosecutions, industry sources and legal experts said.
This indirect strategy is reminiscent of the department's attempts, which have met with only limited success, to sever the medical pot industry's access to banking services. Many businesses have found ways around those restrictions, experts said.
"Filing asset-forfeiture lawsuits against these commercial properties is a very clever way to handle an otherwise horribly difficult and controversial situation," said Greg Baldwin, a partner at the Miami law firm Holland & Knight and a former federal prosecutor.
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Thursday, June 14, 2012
Marijuana, Federalism, and Landlords
Previous posts have noted a problem of federalism: the conflict between federal law outlawing marijuana and state laws permitting its use for medical purposes. Reuters reports: