U.S. Attorney in Spokane Warns Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Because medical marijuana is not recognized under federal law, we all know that the federal government always has the power to bring criminal charges.  Any of a number of Spokane’s many dispensaries could be raided by DEA agents at any time. However, the U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby took an interesting approach to the issue today when he issued this press release.  The statement was directed to the building owners that rent commercial space to medical marijuana dispensaries. The press release starts off: “Today, Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that he has notified landlords that marijuana stores are illegal and warned them of the penalties they may face.”  The press release continues: “Our goal is to first seek voluntary compliance with the law by notifying property owners of the non-conforming use of their property, with the expectation that they take appropriate action. If they do not, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will determine the appropriate law enforcement response, which could include the forfeiture of the property used to facilitate the crimes,” said Mr. Ormsby.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a little strange?  It just seems to me that if the U.S. Attorney feels something illegal is going on, that he should simply make arrests.stip mall dispensary But he probably knows marijuana dispensary owners are not easily intimidated, and many dispensaries are run by activists who are prepared to go jail to fight for what they believe in.  So instead, Ormsby threatens the individuals and corporations who are renting the space to the dispensaries. So what happens tomorrow morning? Do these commercial landlords now post eviction notices on the dispensary doors? It is a standard clause in all commercial leases that the tenant may not use the premises to conduct an illegal activity.  Accordingly, there would be grounds under the law for a landlord to tender an eviction notice.  A typical dispensary is usually in a small commercial strip mall in a low-rent part of town.  You have to wonder a little bit about how many dispensary owners fully disclosed to the landlord what their plans were for the rental place.  Many dispensaries have pretty innocuous looking letterhead and business cards.  In this depressed commercial real estate market, landlords are probably just glad to fill the space.  Under the law, the landlords that are probably in the greatest danger of having their buildings seized are the landlords who have charged the dispensaries above-market rent to compensate themselves for the risk.  I think the federal government won’t be too happy if they subpoena the rental records and find that a landlord took twice as much money from a dispensary as they did for the other units.  Likewise, a landlord that permits a grow operation is running a high risk, even if the marijuana being grown is supplying a dispensary.  Even if a landlord is simply leasing a single unit to a dispensary, the federal government is entitled to seek forfeiture on the entire structure.

I suppose from a resources point of view, the prosecutor’s statement makes sense.  It is resource-intensive to raid and prosecute dispensaries.  Medical marijuana activists have lots of support from lawyers, and they are probably inclined to demand jury trials just out of principle.  Commercial landlords, on the other hand, are probably not looking for a fight.

What do you think of the federal prosecutor’s position on this?

8 Responses to “U.S. Attorney in Spokane Warns Medical Marijuana Dispensaries”

  • Carla H:

    What do I think? I think it is bull****. But the feds shouldn’t go after the dispensary owners either. Rather they should find other things to worry about. And the press release reference to dispensaries near schools is stupid. Say what you want about the dispensaries, they are not endangering child at a city park 3 blocks away.

  • Note that Michael Ormsby is a Spokane attorney nominated to his federal position in Feb 2009. He is also older brother to Timm Ormsby, democratic state representative from Spokane. One has to wonder if Timm, whose party is working to pass through the House a bill to license and limit the number of dispensaries in Washington state, was aware of his brother’s April surprise.


  • Steve Graham:

    It looks like Obama appointed the wrong Ormsby for US attorney. Maybe Timm is facilitating a felony by his support for mj, hmmmm. Thanks for dropping by Aaron

  • Patricia B.:

    As I understand it, when a person sets up a dispensary they are issued some kind of license from the federal government. This license states it is issued for a medical marijuana dispensary but that it may or may not be legal. When will this become defined? I suppose when both federal and state government can figure out how to get a bigger cut of the pie.

  • John S.:

    To Whom it May Concern:
    I’m saddened to hear about Governor Gregoire’s decision to not support a bill that would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. I think I have a legal strategy that will work. First, I think that a federal bill to make marijuana a Schedule III drug would solve most of the problems right away, but you know -$$$$$; Big Pharma; Blah, Blah, Blah…
    The strategy that just occurred to me is that, to meet the requirements of the WA State law, one licensed medical marijuana patient (MMP) who grows medicine is allowed to provide for one other MMP who isn’t able to grow medicine. Consider that the US Supreme Court recently ruled that a corporation is viewed as one entity which is equal to one person, and can contribute as much money as it wants to any political candidate. Therefore, a corporation of MMPs who can grow medicine (grow corp.) can provide for another incorporated group of consumer MMPs (consumer corp.), that is viewed as one entity.
    Logistically, it might be a good idea for the consumer corp. to be registered as a ‘for profit’ religious organization. Here’s how the finances might work: The one, single entity grow corp. would supply medicine to the one single entity, consumer corp., which is a church. Members of the church would show up and acquire a matzo wafer, or whatever, for a suggested donation. They would then be supplied with some medicine as their paycheck for coming to the meeting and [worshiping]. The single entity, consumer corp. would then compensate the single entity, grow corp. for medicine.
    I’m sure some clever lawyers can figure out all the legal details. In 1998, the WA State medical marijuana law was written in such a way that it sounded safe enough for the population to pass it, even if it didn’t make much sense. Now, we need to find a sensible way to counteract the Federal Government’s ridiculous classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
    Sincerely, ***

  • A license given to a dispensary can be an answer to this. But of course, the feds should clearly define this. Or else, it will just be the same for everyone.

  • Kris Camyn:

    Hi Steve,
    Why is there only one “store front” collective open in Spokane?
    Can others open collectives?
    Where can I get info on opening a collective?
    Any answers you can give me would be helpful.
    Thanks alot!
    Kris C

  • Hi Kris. Thanks for visiting my blog. Because of the federal crack down on medical marijuana in Spokane, it is hard to find people willing to take the risk.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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