In the ongoing stare-down between state-legal medical-marijuana dispensaries and federal law-enforcement officials, today is the day somebody blinks.
Letters sent last month to 23 dispensaries near schools in Colorado gave the businesses until today to either move or shut down. If they do not, the U.S. attorney’s office has vowed to take criminal or civil action against the businesses, which are inherently violating federal law but are in compliance with state medical-marijuana law.
U.S. Attorney John Walsh has said he is not bluffing.
“I hope,” Colorado U.S. attorney’s spokesman Jeff Dorschner said, “those marijuana stores that received letters took them seriously.”
By most accounts, they did.
Mike Elliott, the executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a cannabis-business trade organization, said he hasn’t heard of any dispensaries planning to stay open and fight the feds.
“Everyone I know of is planning on shutting their business down,” Elliott said.
Medical-marijuana attorney Lauren Davis said her clients that received letters plan to move or close, though she said there are rumors that some dispensaries may try to stay open on the sly.
In Colorado Springs, Judy Negley said the downtown location of her Indispensary will not be open starting today because the store, which is near Palmer High School, received a letter.
Negley said the decision was a difficult one but was ultimately made because of the “absolute undue hardship they could rain down on the property.”
Negley said she worried that the government might try to seize not just her dispensary but also Independent Records, which she also owns. She said workers at the downtown Indispensary will be offered jobs at other branches.
“We care about these people and the patients as well,” Negley said. “We want to take care of our patients and our employees. The best way to do that is to avoid getting into an unwinnable fight with someone with an ax to grind.”
Indeed, beating the feds when it comes to medical marijuana is a tall task. Federal judges, in Colorado and other states, have frequently denied attempts to raise state-law defenses in federal criminal cases.
Davis, the attorney, said winning back property during a civil forfeiture action is equally difficult, since federal law contains a blanket condemnation of marijuana.
“It is close to impossible to win in a federal forfeiture action,” she said.
Walsh has said the crackdown is necessary because of concerns over how Colorado’s medical-marijuana boom is affecting teen access to and perception of marijuana. He has cited statistics showing a rising number of drug-related suspensions and expulsions at schools, as well as reports that medical marijuana is being diverted to teens.
Though the federal government has showed some willingness to defer to state medical-marijuana laws, Walsh said he must still uphold federal law-enforcement priorities.
“One of those interests, without question, is protecting drug-free zones around schools,” he said last month.
– Article originally from Denver Post.