DEA digging into San Francisco's medical marijuana dispensaries 

click to enlarge Early casualty: The Mr Nice Guy dispensary on Valencia Street shut its doors after receiving federal warnings of possible property forfeitures and 40-year prison terms. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to The SF Examiner
  • Early casualty: The Mr Nice Guy dispensary on Valencia Street shut its doors after receiving federal warnings of possible property forfeitures and 40-year prison terms.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has asked The City’s Department of Public Health to turn over records for 12 of San Francisco's remaining 21 medical cannabis dispensaries, according to emails obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

On Jan. 18 and again Jan. 27, Special Agent David White of the DEA's financial investigative team sent emails to the health department asking for business licenses, health permits, ownership information and yearly inspection forms for the 12 dispensaries.

Last year, White requested information on five other San Francisco dispensaries, issuing a subpoena to obtain private information not normally released via a records request. The landlords of those dispensaries then received letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who warned of property forfeiture and 40-year prison terms unless the dispensaries shut down.

All five dispensaries closed, though two have since become delivery-only services.

Health department Deputy Director Colleen Chawla said her agency complied with the DEA’s most recent request.

White did not respond to a request for comment. Agent Casey McEnry, a DEA spokeswoman, said the agency only comments on cases actively in the courts.

On Oct. 7, the four U.S. attorneys for California announced a coordinated, statewide crackdown on what they called the "medical marijuana industry." Since then, hundreds of dispensaries have closed, mostly in Sacramento and San Diego counties. Five have closed in San Francisco, and one in Marin.

Stephanie Tucker, a spokeswoman for The City's Medical Cannabis Task Force, is concerned by the prospect of 12 more dispensaries closing.

"It's a clear indication that Melinda Haag is not using the discretion of her office to go after bad players as stated at her October 2011 press conference,” Tucker told The SF Examiner on Thursday. “Instead, they are targeting the regulated community who operate with a permit, in compliance with state and local laws, transparently and in good standing with The City and their community."

Medical marijuana advocates also are rankled by what they call inaction taken by city leaders.

In 2008, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom sent a letter to members of Congress asking them to intervene in the DEA’s “undermin[ing] of California’s state medical marijuana laws." Newsom's successor, Mayor Edwin Lee, has yet to comment on the crackdown publicly, and on Thursday he did not respond to requests for comment on the health department emails.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in support of dispensaries in the fall, but has not taken action since.

“There’s a definite void in leadership here,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, told The SF Examiner on Thursday, adding that federal law enforcement is “undermining the will of the voters” encapsulated in Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal use when it passed in 1996.

“I understand this is a radioactive issue for some people, but too bad -- it’s the law of the land,” Ammiano said.

There were 26 dispensaries in San Francisco in October. After The City briefly suspended its permitting process, the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear applications for two new dispensaries at its meeting next week.

San Francisco was the first city in California to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries under its Medical Cannabis Act, which became law in 2005. Much of The City’s regulations are stricter than what is allowed under state law.

Dispensaries pay local and state sales taxes. The health department inspects them once a year to ensure that they comply with city and state laws. All of San Francisco’s dispensaries were found to be in compliance during the most recent inspections.

Open and shut

Last month, the DEA asked city officials for information on 12 of San Francisco’s remaining 21 medical cannabis dispensaries. They are:

Good Fellows Smoke Shop, 473 Haight St.

Re-Leaf Herbal Center, 1284 Mission St.

The Green Cross, 1230 Market St.

Grass Roots, 1077 Post St.

Emmalyn’s, 1597-A Howard St.

Bay Area Safe Alternatives Collective, 1326 Grove St.

SF Medical Cannabis Club, 120 10th St.

Waterfall Wellness, 1545 Ocean Ave.

Hope Net, 223 Ninth St.

Valencia Street Caregivers, 208 Valencia St.

Vapor Room, 607A Haight St.

Shambala Healing Center, 2441 Mission St.

Last year, the DEA made similar requests for information on five other dispensaries. Those dispensaries then closed after receiving threatening letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Those dispensaries were:

Mr Nice Guy, 174 Valencia St.

Divinity Tree Wellness Co-op, 958 Geary St.

Medithrive, 1933 Mission St.

Market Street Collective, 1884 Market St.

Sanctuary, 669 O'Farrell St.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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Tuesday, Oct 13, 2015


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