By Steven Tavares
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Medical marijuana advocates say DOJ memo is meant
to intimidate local leaders and legislation.

In what some are calling a harsh warning by the U.S. Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general released a memo this week telling local entities like Oakland to refrain from reaching out to the large-scale pot growers or risk prosecution for themselves.

One medical marijuana advocacy group characterized the memo sent Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General James Cole as a device to intimidate local leaders and various industry-related pot legislation put forth in congress, including a recent bill sponsored by Rep. Pete Stark.

Stark’s legislation would allow medical marijuana cooperatives better access to banking products that would remove the stigma and danger of the typical cash-only business and give the businesses access to recordkeeping to eventually pay taxes.

Don Duncan, a representative for Americans for Safe Access, asked, “Why not let legislation sponsored by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Pete Stark address these issues without intimidating lawmakers, regulators, tax collectors, providers, and others?”

Cole’s memo to U.S. attorneys warns those facilitating large-scale marijuana distribution face the risk of violating federal law and states local ordinances will not constitute a helpful defense.

“Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law. Consistent with resource constraints and the discretion you may exercise in your district, such persons are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution. State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA.”

The statement is similar to warnings made by former Oakland City Attorney John Russo to members of the Oakland City Council who deliberating the issuance of city permits for medical marijuana grow center along with estimations of millions in tax receipts from the industry.
DOJ maintains it will not expend resources to prosecute legitimately sick patients for medical marijuana use and cultivation, but reiterated the transaction only be made by “caregivers” and patients.

“The term “caregiver” as used in the memorandum meant just that,” Cole wrote, “individuals providing care to individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses, not commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana.”

Although Oakland has taken the lead locally in attempting to legitimized the medical marijuana industry, neighboring cities like San Leandro and Hayward, which had all showed initial interest, were later spooked by past rhetoric from the justice department and reverted to bans of the cooperatives within city limits.

Last year, for instance, a Southern California medical marijuana cultivator sought to open a so-called “pot farm” in San Leandro’s industrial district near Doolittle Road. Despite enticing the cash-strapped city with estimates of $5 million in annual tax revenue, the city initial discussed the issue before reinstituting a moratorium on accepting business pertaining to all business pertaining to the nascent pot industry.