Pot clubs in San Francisco receive threatening notes from feds 

click to enlarge Where there’s smoke: The City’s medical marijuana advocates are discouraged by growing federal pressure. (Getty Images file photo) - WHERE THERE’S SMOKE: THE CITY’S MEDICAL MARIJUANA ADVOCATES ARE DISCOURAGED BY GROWING FEDERAL PRESSURE. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • Where there’s smoke: The City’s medical marijuana advocates are discouraged by growing federal pressure. (Getty Images file photo)
  • Where there’s smoke: The City’s medical marijuana advocates are discouraged by growing federal pressure. (Getty Images file photo)

San Francisco’s medical marijuana dispensaries are under attack after at least three landlords of pot clubs were sent threatening letters from the Department of Justice as part of a statewide crackdown.

The letters are the latest conflict between San Francisco — where medical marijuana is legal under local and state law — and the federal government, which deems the drug illegal.

The letters, sent by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to at least three landlords of Mission neighborhood dispensaries, cite a federal law that increases penalties for drug activity within 1,000 feet of schools and other public spaces. San Francisco’s pot club regulations prohibit dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, but a handful of the city’s 26 clubs were grandfathered in and exempted.

The letters warn the property owners that their buildings could be forfeited to the federal government without compensation and any rent money seized.

“Violation of the federal law … is a felony crime, and carries with it a penalty of up to 40 years in prison when operating within a prohibited distance of a school,” said a copy of one letter.

Similar letters have reportedly been sent out to dispensaries throughout the state. At least 12 pot clubs in San Diego received the threatening missives, as did the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax.

The Department of Justice would not comment Thursday but is expected to make an announcement today.

For medical marijuana advocates, the letters are only the latest in a string of alarming federal enforcement actions. Operators have found financial institutions no longer welcome them as banking customers and the IRS has ruled dispensaries cannot deduct expenses such as payroll as other businesses do.

The trend is particularly troubling for advocates who believed President Barack Obama’s election would usher in a new tone where feds would back off and respect local and state laws on medical marijuana. But the opposite is happening, they say.

“Obama has really done nothing to change Bush-era policies in this regard,” said Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Advocates are bracing to fight back this concerted crackdown, as they have done in the past.

Stephanie Tucker, a member of The City’s medical marijuana task force, said the letters are a “slap in the face.” “We need to move forward in legalization,” Tucker said, “Enough is enough. This is a waste of resources.”

This is not the first time federal law enforcement has used threatening letters against San Francisco landlords who rent out space to medical marijuana dispensaries. Similar letters were sent out in 2007.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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