On Thursday the DEA announced that it had sent letters to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries determined to be located within "1,000 feet of a school, playground or other prohibited area" - ordering them to shut down or face the seizure and forfeiture of assets and profits, along with criminal prosecution. The development was just the latest chapter in the ongoing battle over medical pot of people's access to it.
A list of dispensaries where the letter was sent was not immediately available, according to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson Emily Langlie. Langlie tells Seattle Weekly (and others) it would be "inappropriate" to inform the media of which dispensaries have been targeted before owners and operators of these dispensaries personally receive the letters.
According to some within the medical marijuana community, finding a storefront or location outside of these somewhat ambiguously defined "school zones" can be more difficult than it sounds. Initiative 502, the attempt to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in our state scheduled to be on November's ballot, would also institute a similar 1,000-foot boundary for dispensaries - one of the many reasons medical marijuana advocates have taken issue with.
Predictably, the federal government has so far been less than compassionate regarding these arguments. Thursday's action in Washington was not all together unique; similar threatening-letter-sending efforts have been undertaken in Colorado and California.
"We all work hard to create a safe zone for kids in school. There is a reason that both federal and state laws prohibit sales of marijuana in school zones," says U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny Durkan in the statement, which was widely distributed to the local media. "We need to enforce one message for our students: drugs have no place in or near our schools."
As noted, the letter and the threats don't just target those operating marijuana dispensaries; anyone renting space to a medical pot operation also faces consequences, something that may prove to be the most effective measure when it comes to actually scaring these dispensaries into closing their doors. After all, it's hard to operate a medical marijuana dispensary if your landlord gives you the boot because they're afraid the feds are about to swoop in and seize their property.
"This letter seeks voluntary compliance with the law to prevent future exposure to criminal prosecution and/or civil forfeiture proceedings. I am confident that once notified of the ramifications and penalties associated with renting a property for marijuana distribution purposes, property owners will take appropriate steps to rectify the situation on their own," says Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Seattle Division Matthew G. Barnes in the release. "The DEA will not turn a blind eye to criminal organizations that attempt to use state or local law as a shield for their illicit drug trafficking activities."
Read the full letter below: