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Federal officials begin major crackdown on marijuana operations

October 7, 2011 | 12:07 pm


Federal prosecutors on Friday launched a significant crackdown on commercial marijuana operations, announcing legal action against several marijuana operations as part of a new statewide enforcement effort.

According to a statement, the action focused in part on an Orange County building "that houses eight marijuana stores and a trafficking ring that sold marijuana at its San Fernando Valley storefront, and sent marijuana to customers as far away as New York state."

Additionally, six people were charged in alleged marijuana trafficking in a operation that authorities said generated $15 million in eight months.

Officials also issued warning letters to operators of 38 marijuana stores.

 It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law,” said U.S. Atty. André Birotte Jr. in statement. “While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California.”

The announcement came after The Times reported Thursday that federal prosecutors are threatening to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California, sending letters that warn landlords to stop sales of the drug within 45 days or face the possibility that their property will be seized and they will be charged with a crime.

The stepped-up enforcement escalates the Obama administration's efforts to rein in the spread of pot stores, which accelerated after the attorney general announced in 2009 that federal prosecutors would not target people using medical marijuana in states that allow it.

"It's coming out of left field as far as we're concerned," said Joe Elford, the chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for medical marijuana use. "I really don't know what inspired this. It's a complete about-face from what [Obama] said when he was campaigning."


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Photo: Medical marijuana plants are tended at a dispensary in West Hollywood. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times