Feds warn, indict California medical marijuana dispensary operators


Federal officials say offenders are using the cover of medical marijuana to sell drugs through storefronts.

Officials are targeting dispensaries located near schools, playgrounds, parks and sports fields where children are likely to congregate.

Arrests and indictments in California have been made in recent days by federal officials.

As part of a coordinated effort by California's four United States Attorneys, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have taken a series of actions against illegal commercial marijuana operations, including a building in South Orange County that houses eight marijuana stores and a trafficking ring that sold marijuana at its San Fernando Valley storefront, and sent marijuana to customers as far away as New York state.

The actions announced Friday in the Central District of California include:

  • a criminal indictment that charges six people with marijuana trafficking that allegedly generated nearly $15 million in profits in only eight months
  • the filing of civil forfeiture lawsuits against three properties and a related seizure of more than $135,000 from the bank account of one property owner
  • warning letters sent to the operators and landlords of 38 marijuana stores.

California's medical marijuana law is 15 years old.

The strategies they are using vary somewhat, with warning letters issued by the U.S. attorney in San Diego giving recipients 45 days to comply and 36 property owners in Los Angeles and the Central Coast given just two weeks to evict pot dispensaries or growers.

Haag said the move is not designed to clamp down on patients who grow their own marijuana for medical use. But dispensaries that were not part of the initial wave of warning letters "shouldn't take any comfort," she said. "They are illegal under federal law."

The move comes a little more than two months after the Obama administration toughened its stand on medical marijuana. For two years before that, 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.

According to the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, all known marijuana stores in the following areas are being sent letters warning that their operations are in violation of federal law:

  • Orange County: Lake Forest, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, and Rancho Santa Margarita
  • Riverside County: Murrieta, Wildomar, Temecula
  • Inland Empire: Pomona, Claremont, Upland, Montclair, Chino

According to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, at this time no cities in Ventura County are being targeted. But he said this is an initial phase and more locations will likely be added at a later date.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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