DOJ to Oakland: Industrial Pot Farms Are Illegal

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag sent the city of Oakland a strong message Wednesday: big industrial pot farms are illegal and the Department of Justice is considering “civil and criminal legal remedies” if Oakland proceeds with its plans to permit them.

In a letter obtained by The Bay Citizen, Haag wrote that the Department of Justice is “concerned” about Oakland’s “licensing scheme that permits large-scale industrial marijuana cultivation and manufacturing as it authorizes conduct contrary to federal law and threatens the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances.”

“Individuals who elect to operate ‘industrial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities’ will be doing so in violation of federal law,” Haag wrote.

The owners, financiers and landlords of the pot farms would be in the sights of the DOJ, Haag wrote. “Potential actions the Department is considering include injunctive actions to prevent cultivation and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations of the [federal Controlled Substances Act]; civil fines; criminal prosecution; and forfeiture of any property used to facilitate violations of the CSA.”

Oakland officials have been busy rewriting the pot growing plans in hopes that they would address legal concerns. Oakland City Attorney John Russo warned the City Council that the feds had raised concerns with him, but this letter is the first written communication between the Department of Justice and the city on the matter.

The letter, dated Feb. 1 and received by the city Wednesday, is in response to a Jan. 14 letter from Russo seeking guidance from the feds on Oakland’s pot farm legislation.

Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks said in response to the letter that she believes the U.S. attorney is addressing the old version of the pot farm legislation. The City Council scrapped that version in December.

“It appears that the letter is referencing the old ordinance and that they haven’t looked at the latest version of the ordinance,” said Brooks.

Brooks penned the most recent version, which was discussed Tuesday night at a City Council meeting. It would require that pot farms be owned by dispensaries to assuage concerns that the huge independent growing operations would violate state laws requiring medical marijuana to be grown and sold by not-for-profit collectives of patients and caregivers. The farms would also be limited to 50,000 square feet each.

“There was no doubt that after looking closely at the first draft that there were some issues with it,” said Brooks. “They were stand-alone operations which had no relationship to a patient.”

In the letter, Haag made sure to point out that the DOJ won’t be focusing its limited resources on prosecuting patients. But unlawful manufacturing and distribution is another story.

City Attorney Russo released a statement Wednesday, saying, “The City Attorney wrote to the US Attorney’s office at the direction of the City Council. The Council directed this office to get specificity about the concerns of federal officials and this letter is the result.”