Mayor backs pot clubs in dispute with feds

Mayor Gavin Newsom called for an investigation into “threatening” letters from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to local landlords who rent space to medical marijuana dispensaries and called upon Capitol Hill officials to convene a congressional hearing.

The state allows the sale of marijuana for medical uses, but the drug remains illegal under federal law. In late December 2007, the DEA mailed letters to property owners in The City warning that federal agents could seize the assets of property owners who rent space to marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco.

In an April 8 letter to U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., obtained by The Examiner, Newsom requested “immediate oversight” of the federal agency's “on-going interference with implementation of the law.”

“San Francisco strongly opposes Drug Enforcement Agency interference in medical cannabis dispensing and the recent sensational threatening letters to these property owners threatening asset forfeiture and imprisonment,” Newsom wrote.

The City has more than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries, according to local advocates. In the wake of the December letters, city officials have moved swiftly to show support for San Francisco’s pot clubs.

In February, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution authored by Supervisor Chris Daly reaffirming The City as a sanctuary for medical marijuana and condemning DEA actions against property owners.

Berkeley has also passed a resolution against the DEA's tactics, condemning raids of medical marijuana dispensaries, and state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill asking President Bush and Congress to pass legislation requiring theDEA to respect medical marijuana laws in states. And in December, Conyers issued a statement after reports of the letters surfaced and said the committee had already questioned the DEA and would specifically question the letters.

Shona Gochenaur, the executive director of Axis of Love, a medical marijuana activist group, said closing down the dispensaries causes medical marijuana patients to buy elsewhere.

“When you close down safe-access centers our patients go onto the black market,” Gochenaur said. San Francisco landlords who lease to medical marijuana dispensaries feel “very intruded upon” by the DEA letters.

Calls to the Drug Enforcement Agency for comment were not returned.

dsmith@examiner.com

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