Federal medical marijuana crackdown in California, is Washington next?

U.S. Attorneys in California continue to ratchet up rhetoric against the state’s booming medical marijuana dispensary industry, with news Wednesday that the chief federal prosecutor for San Diego is taking a hard look at advertising.

“I’m not just seeing print advertising,” prosecutor Laura E. Duffy told the nonprofit investigative California Watch and KQED. “I’m actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It’s gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate — one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children — it’s against the law.”

This been a bad two weeks for medical marijuana, particularly in California, one of 15 states that allow it, including Washington State.

Earlier this month, the four top federal prosecutors in California announced they gave several dispensaries 45 days to shut din in a move to stop what Andre Birotte, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, called the “Costco-, Wal-Mart-type model that we see across California.”

Days earlier, the IRS ruled that Oakland’s Harborside collective, a pioneer in medical marijuana, cannot claim standard business deductions, crippling the financial infrastructure of dispensaries.

U.S. Attorneys under the Obama Administration have taken an increasingly belligerent approach, matching and even outpacing the George W. Bush Administration in clamping down on the booming medical marijuana market, including here in Washington.

California often has been a bellwether — commercial and legally – in medical marijuana, raising the question of whether Seattle’s dispensaries are in trouble. Jenny Durkan, the chief federal prosecutor in Seattle, gave a stern warning in my story about the crackdown in Spokane.

Emily Langlie, Durkan’s spokeswoman, said the office doesn’t comment on enforcement actions in other jurisdictions, but pointed back to Durkan’s statement last month, which read:

“We never announce who or what we are investigating. The day before the Eastern Washington enforcement actions, those dispensaries thought they could operate without penalty. They were wrong. We have made it clear that we will not prosecute truly ill people, their actual caregivers or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment. Many others are operating well outside that zone. The label ‘medical marijuana’ cannot be used as a shield to hide drug dealing and other criminal behavior. No one should take false comfort from lax local laws or marijuana industry lawyers. They risk federal prosecution, property forfeiture and other penalties.”

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