U.S. Attorney Defends Medical Marijuana Crackdown

Recent proliferation of federal involvement has some people questioning the Department of Justice's role.

By Conan Nolan
|  Sunday, Oct 23, 2011  |  Updated 10:34 AM PDT
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Two years after the Department of Justice said it would respect state laws, U.S. attorneys based in California announced a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“What we’ve seen, unfortunately, is the Compassionate Use Act has really turned into the Commercial Use Act,” said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for California’s central district.

Birotte claimed that although California voters approved of Proposition 215 in 1996, which created a legal, medical defense for the use of marijuana, many dispensaries in the Southland are operating as for-profit entities and are selling high volumes of marijuana to other states.

We’ve been receiving feedback from law enforcement circles and communities throughout the state that this has been a growing problem, Birotte said.

Eight Lake Forest dispensaries, all operating out of the second floor of a strip mall, shut their doors earlier this week after federal authorities requested asset forfeitures from their landlords.

Birotte said the Department of Justice has requests these forfeitures in instances when repeated attempts to shut down the dispensaries have failed.

California legislatures have asked the federal government to pull back on their marijuana crackdowns, claiming the closures affect people who are ill.

While Birotte said he respected those differing opinions, he added that marijuana is a controlled substance and the federal authorities will continue targeting those dispensaries that violate state and federal law.

It is estimated about 1 million Californians hold a medical marijuana card.

Birotte said he could not guess how many of those holders were erroneous, but said it is fair to question their legitimacy.

“There is some question as to whether all those million people are those who righteously deserving of a medical marijuana recommendation,” Birotte said.

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