The smoldering issues around Arcata's marijuana business — grow houses and medical marijuana dispensaries — will be rekindled at Wednesday's (Dec. 19) City Council meeting. The council's agenda includes continued discussion about establishing a working group to explore standards for the regulation of personal marijuana growing in residential zones and the regulation of medical marijuana clinics. (See "Gold From Green In A Gray Area," Nov. 8.)
Meanwhile, there's a legal battle brewing regarding a tactic recently deployed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA has sent what it describes as "courtesy" letters to landlords of marijuana clinics throughout the state "to inform them of the suspected marijuana distribution center operating on their property."
According to the DEA's San Francisco field division office, the letters were first sent to clinics in Los Angeles and San Francisco, then last week to clinic landlords the drug cops identified in the eastern and northern parts of the state, including Humboldt County.
In a prepared statement, DEA Special Agent Javier F. Pena declared, "It is a violation of federal law to knowingly and intentionally rent, lease or make available for use, with or without compensation, a building, room or enclosure for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing or using a controlled substance ... The DEA is committed to enforcing our nation's drug laws and will continue to work to keep our neighborhood communities safe from drugs and the negative ripple effects they cause."
Lawyers representing the medical pot industry, including a recently formed group called the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers, have already fired back. On Dec. 6, the UMMP announced that it had filed a lawsuit in federal court against the DEA, seeking an order to stop the threatening letters.
On Dec. 7, Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, weighed in, releasing a statement expressing his concern about the DEA letters. "The committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts," Conyers wrote.
UMMP's chief counsel, Steven Schectman, said that he has contacted Conyers' office and is providing his staff with copies of the litigation filed in both state and federal court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible," said Schectman. "As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help."
Schectman's name may sound familiar. His law office is in Arcata. He was a candidate for district attorney in the 2004 recall election, and later served as a volunteer prosecutor for District Attorney Paul Gallegos. More recently his name popped up when county officials sanctioned Vilica LLC, a company in which Schectman is a principal, for allegedly developed holdings in Hoopa without proper permits, putting in homes and buildings that were allegedly used in a large-scale marijuana growing operation.
The local impact of the DEA letter campaign remains to be seen. Danco, landlord for two Arcata clinics (and a third under construction), has not received a letter from the DEA, according to Danco Group spokesperson Lindsey Myers.