SF pot clubs fight to keep doors open

Without judicial action, the future for most of San Francisco’s medical marijuana dispensaries might go up in smoke, according to attorneys seeking a court injunction to block a federal crackdown on the industry.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, medical marijuana advocates asked for an order barring the government from arresting or prosecuting patients, dispensary owners or landlords of properties housing dispensaries. Pot advocates said Bay Area dispensaries would start closing later this week if a restraining order was not issued.

The state’s four U.S. attorneys last month announced a broad effort to close pot clubs, in particular by sending letters to landlords who rent space to pot dispensaries.

The lawsuit says the enhanced enforcement now being threatened by federal prosecutors would be unconstitutional and violate terms of a 2009 legal document in which the U.S. Department of Justice agreed not to use federal resources against patients who comply with state law.

For landlords whose buildings house pot clubs, Saturday is the deadline to comply with letters sent Sept. 28 by Northern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and other federal prosecutors around the state warning that certain pot clubs are within less than 1,000 feet of a school — in violation of federal law. Matthew Kumin, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said even though only four letters were sent to Bay Area operations, the 1,000-foot rule technically applies to 15 of The City’s 26 dispensaries.

If that many pot clubs shut down — whether voluntarily or involuntarily — patients will essentially be denied access to medicine, Kumin said.

“They will be forced to go to the black market to get cannabis,” Kumin said.

Similar letters were sent by federal authorities to dispensary owners in 2007, but San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force spokeswoman Stephanie Tucker said the latest round seems more coordinated.

“It’s outrageous that for 10 years, we’ve been given direction from the federal and state government on how to proceed,” Tucker said. “And to have everything pulled out from under them is just wrong.”

Charlie Pappas, who runs the Divinity Tree Patients’ Wellness Cooperative in the Tenderloin, said without a successful restraining order against potential federal action, he will shut down his operation Friday and the club’s more than 3,000 members will have to go elsewhere.

“We don’t want the [Drug Enforcement Administration] showing up and taking our medicine,” Pappas said.

Jack Gillund, a spokesman for Haag, declined to comment on the lawsuit or any other issues surrounding the federal action.

Another lawsuit filed Oct. 27 by the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access made similar arguments about constitutional violations, but did not seek to immediately block federal action, pending a decision on the suit.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Marijuana crackdown timeline

Sept. 28: The state’s four U.S. attorneys send letters to landlords whose buildings contain pot dispensaries near schools and threaten prison time and property seizure

Oct. 27: Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access sue the U.S. Department of Justice for unconstitutionally targeting medical marijuana

Nov. 4: Attorneys file lawsuit on behalf of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana alleging similar constitutional violations and vowing to seek a restraining order barring federal action until the matter is decided by a judge

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