Why stop enforcement when it’s so darned lucrative?

Why stop enforcement when it's so darned lucrative?

by digby

Oh good. I feel safe now:

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske sought to portray the White House as a champion of drug policy reform on Wednesday, while staunchly opposing marijuana legalization and leaving unanswered questions about how the Justice Department will handle legalized recreational pot in Colorado and Washington.

"The Justice Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," said Kerlikowske in a speech that came two weeks after a Pew Research poll revealed that 52 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

"Neither a state nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress," said Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Nor should we lose sight of the fundamental fact that using marijuana has public health consequences, and the most responsible public policy is one that restricts its availability and discourages its use."

He did say the administration seeks a middle ground: they are against legalization but also against the War on drugs.

And the good news is that marijuana enforcement pays for itself!

Sultan Alkhraisat owns a medical marijuana dispensary in the back of a cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. The pot club is half a block away from the San Francisco Friends School. In fact, there are several other cannabis dispensaries near Friends and two other schools.
Alkhraisat declined to be interviewed, but he did confirm that the owner of his building received a letter from the U.S. Attorney last week. It said, “there is a marijuana dispensary operating…within a prohibited distance of a school.” And that it “may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets.”
ABC7 has learned that the same letter has been sent to many other pot clubs operating in Northern California…
The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to be interviewed, but a spokesperson said they are targeting dispensaries which are operating within 1,000 feet of schools.
California Watch explains how this new strategy could destroy the semi-legitimate medical marijuana industry in California: 
The U.S. attorneys from California’s four federal districts are preparing to unveil in the coming days their latest effort to push a coordinated statewide marijuana enforcement strategy. That approach includes the possible seizure of land or buildings leased to marijuana operations that may be legal under state law but remain illegal under federal statutes. 

It's a neat little trick. Many dispensaries just close under the threat of asset forfeiture and those that try to fight for their rights? Guess what?

California’s four U.S. Attorneys are waging their war on medical marijuana without winning a conviction, bringing a case to trial or even filing criminal charges. They find that strong-arm tactics work better.

Using a legal maneuver called civil asset forfeiture, they are seizing cash, cars and businesses – without the need of proving guilt or innocence in court.

You are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But this doesn’t even come up in a civil asset forfeiture. It’s the weapon of choice of the four federal prosecutors in California, where they strong-arm commercial landlords into evicting marijuana dispensaries and caregivers by threatening to take all they own. It’s a cheap, effective solution that keeps controversial medical marijuana prosecutions out of the courts, and it has the added benefit of turning the presumption of innocence on its head: the landlords must prove that they didn’t know about the alleged criminal activity in order to save their forfeited property.

Since the U.S. Attorneys announced their coordinated crackdown in October 2011, civil asset forfeiture warnings have shuttered hundreds of dispensaries, including the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which was the oldest in the state. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag sent a letter to the Marin Alliance’s landlord last November, threatening “criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets” unless he evicted his tenant.

The landlord served the Marin Alliance with an eviction notice, but the dispensary resisted, and the matter ended up in a local court. Yet even as the landlord was working to comply, Haag’s office initiated the forfeiture anyway and the Marin Alliance closed for good in December.

Though it’s the federal government leading the charge against medical marijuana, local California cops are also getting a piece of the asset-forfeiture action through a practice known as equitable sharing.

Under equitable sharing, local police can request the help of federal law enforcement agencies in conducting raids and seizing assets for forfeiture. By doing this, the local cops get two huge benefits, the first of which is more money: By bringing the action under federal law, local precincts can claim up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds, whereas their take would be capped at 65 percent if they operated under California law.

Even more importantly, equitable sharing allows local California police to conduct raids based on federal laws, muscling aside state laws that were designed to protect Californians from overzealous property seizure. This loophole enables local governments that are hostile toward the medical marijuana movement to shut down dispensaries in defiance of state law and make a tidy profit in the process.

“The DEA doesn’t have a lot of agents in California — maybe 100 or so,” said Matt Kumin, a civil rights attorney who has brought constitutional challenges to all four U.S. attorneys targeting medical marijuana in California. “They don’t initiate investigations. Most of that is done by the local law enforcement agencies, which are essentially deputized to work with the feds in this effort, as they’re getting federal funds for drug interventions.”

And people wonder why the Department of Justice still prioritizes this even in the face of many other more important crimes which people haven't voted to decriminalize. Follow da money.