The Justice Department (and the federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies underneath it) aren’t really sure how they want to treat medical marijuana dispensaries. One moment we hear they are a “low priority” and the next we see agents raiding them with weapons drawn. In their wishy-washy behavior, it’s not surprising to see they are now seeking to seize a building that once housed a dispensary. It’s not surprising, but it’s still troubling and enraging.
An Anaheim couple consisting of a dentist and a computer engineer with government security clearance, bought an office building on Ball Road as an income generator. The wife had her practice there for many years and they leased space to insurance agents, and other law abiding business owners. The building was their retirement plan.
When the “Ogden memo” of 2009 came down saying dispensaries would be a “low priority” of federal prosecutors, medical marijuana dispensaries multiplied. The couple, seeing these dispensary owners as similarly-minded business people, decided to lease space to one.
“I’m a law-abiding citizen,” said the man. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.” After all, the dispensary-owners were operating business that were legal under California state law and they held business permits.
The DEA saw otherwise. The Feds didn’t use their own investigation and instead relied on a single purchase of medical marijuana for $37 made by an Anaheim police officer posing as a medical marijuana patient. He even had his legitimate doctor’s recommendation for pot in hand. The sale didn’t break state law. But, according to U.S. Attorney Greg Parham, it was enough.
A lawsuit was filed in August of 2012 to seize the property valued at $1.5 million based on this single sale.
After receiving notification of the suit, the building owners evicted the dispensary and sent letters to the feds and the city of Anaheim, hoping to smooth things over and avoid the seizure. But like a shark that smells blood, Parham’s sights were set and he wouldn’t be dissuaded.
He wouldn’t be dissuaded even after U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford gave him several chances to change his mind, pointing out several inconsistencies in the federal medical marijuana policies and essentially asking if of all landlords to threaten with forfeiture, this was the landlord Parham really wanted to tangle with.
“Don’t you think in this world of change and whatever, progress or regress, depending on your point of view, this is the exact case that you don’t want presented as a test case on the interaction of federal and state [law] and medical and dispensaries and forfeiture?” Guilford asked. “[Y]ou know, a poor dentist has to turn over a whole bunch of money just because they maybe were relying on what they had heard federal agents say?”
This is happening in the city that sponsors the annual Kush Expo at their convention center—a medical marijuana festival of edibles, smokeables, and doctors standing by to write out recommendations. The case marks just another hypocrisy in the federal government’s War on Drugs, a war that often seems to be motivated by nothing more than money and a bullish mindset. The ease and aggressive manner in which the government is willing to engage in asset forfeiture is an outrageous abuse of power in service to a completely failed policy.