-- Federal prosecutors in California announced a series of actions Friday targeting what they characterized as the "large, for-profit marijuana industry" that has developed since the state legalized medical marijuana for select patients 15 years ago.
Four U.S. attorneys -- Benjamin Wanger, Andre Birotte Jr., Laura Duffy and Melinda Haag -- detailed in a joint press release and later press conference in Sacramento some steps that have been taken in conjunction with federal law enforcement and local officials in California.
They include letters of warning to landlords and lien holders of places in which marijuana is being sold illegally, "civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity" and numerous criminal cases. The latter refers to arrests in recent weeks related to cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno, all part of an effort that Wagner claimed has resulted in the seizure of hundreds of pounds of marijuana, tens of thousands of plants and hundreds of thousands in cash.
"The actions taken today in California ... are consistent with the (Justice) Department's commitment to enforcing existing federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, in all states," U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a news release.
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 to exempt doctors and seriously ill patients from marijuana laws and allow them to grow and use it in treatment. The bill didn't legalize marijuana for all, but it did lead to the emergence of hundreds of dispensaries where people -- legally only those with medical conditions and a doctor's authorization -- could get the drug.
Wagner, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, told reporters Friday that federal authorities "are not focused on backyard grows with small amounts of marijuana by seriously ill people. We are targeting commercial operations, which profit from growing and distributing ... and often use the trappings of state law for cover, but in fact are abusing state law."