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Officials seize less Calif. marijuana, see more on private land

As California's outdoor marijuana growing season nears its end for 2012, drug officials are reporting a sharp decline in crop seizures for the second year in a row.

The latest figures show that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are on track to eradicate an estimated 1.5 million plants from outdoor gardens – mostly on public land – down from a decade high of about 7.3 million plants in 2009. This year's seizures would be the lowest since 2004, when a little more than 1.1 million plants were eradicated, according to Drug Enforcement Administration statistics.

Some attribute the drop to a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries and illegal grows on public land and political losses in California, such as voters’ defeat in 2010 of the pro-legalization Proposition 19. At the same time, fewer counter-narcotics teams hunted for California pot this year due to the elimination of a three-decades-old state eradication program.

Others say growers have retreated to smaller garden plots on private land and gone back underground to wait out what legalization advocates have deemed the last throes of prohibition. They also point to a glut of marijuana that depressed wholesale prices and burst the state’s so-called “Green Rush” to capitalize on the relaxed attitudes toward the drug.

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Marijuana use in teens linked to higher risk of testicular cancer

Smoking pot as a teenager can double a man’s risk of getting testicular cancer.

But cocaine use can reduce the risk by half.

These are just some of the conclusions a team of researchers at the University of Southern California came to after interviewing more than 350 men, 163 of whom had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, about recreational drug use.

“We do not know what marijuana triggers in the testes that may lead to carcinogenesis, although we speculate that it may be acting through… the cellular network that responds to the active ingredient in marijuana, since this system has been shown to be important in the formation of sperm,” said Victoria Cortessis, lead author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

The questionnaire included entries for poppers, mushrooms, Quaaludes, PCP, barbiturates and speed.

Testicular cancers are the most common forms of cancer in adolescent and adult men between the ages of 15 and 45, Cortessis said.

The research appeared in today's edition of the journal Cancer.

The number of men getting testicular cancer has been on the rise, Cortessis said, indicating something other than genetics is playing a role. Researchers have speculated that chemicals affecting the hormone system could be partly responsible, including some of the properties found in marijuana smoke.

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Indicted Oakland pot entrepreneur leaned on political relationships

The rise and fall of a medical marijuana entrepreneur offers a look at behind-the-scenes city politics and business dealings that fueled the pot boom in Oakland.

Adithya Sambamurthy/California Watch Dhar Mann, shown in 2010, owns the marijuana growing supply business weGrow, known as the “Wal-Mart of weed.” 

Wearing a gray pinstriped suit with his hair gelled into a faux-hawk, Dhar Mann broke into a smile as an Oakland City Council member showed up for the grand reopening of his store, weGrow, known as the “Wal-Mart of weed.”

“Hey, man. How you doin’?” Mann said before clasping Councilman Larry Reid’s hand and pulling him in close for a chest bump, a videotape of the event shows.

On that sunny afternoon in 2010, Oakland was on track to become a hub for medical marijuana businesses. Like other city leaders, Reid – who was introduced by Mann as “Larry Weed” – saw giant pot farms as an untapped source of tax revenue for a perennially cash-strapped city.

That created an entrée for Mann to build his pot empire on the local political relationships that his parents, owners of the largest cab company in Oakland, had spent decades building. Mann’s rise offers a look at behind-the-scenes city politics and business dealings that fueled the pot boom in Oakland.

 

From his first store in Oakland, Mann grew to become a national figure, expanding weGrow across the country. He was featured in “Green Rush,” a 2011 National Geographic documentary, and countless news reports. But as federal raids threaten to topple the quasi-legal marijuana industry in California, Mann’s Midas touch in Oakland has lost its luster.

On May 17, Mann, now 28, was indicted on charges of defrauding the city of Oakland out of $44,000 in redevelopment grants. The Alameda County district attorney charged Mann with 13 felony counts, alleging that he paid contractors who fixed up old buildings less than he told the city he had – and pocketed the difference. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

Days after Mann’s indictment, city officials revoked a permit to open a new medical marijuana dispensary granted to G8 Medical Alliance, a business registered to Mann and led by people who worked with weGrow and his real estate company, MannEdge Properties.

Mann did not respond to repeated requests for comment or detailed questions sent via email about his relationships with Oakland politicians. One lawyer who represents Mann did not return calls seeking comment. Another lawyer, Eduardo Roy – who is representing Mann in the criminal case – declined to comment on the record. When a reporter visited the East Oakland headquarters of the family’s taxi company, Friendly Cab, an employee called Mann, who told her to order the reporter off the premises.

Newly obtained emails and a police report, however, offer hints of Mann’s close relationship with Reid – now the City Council president – and other city leaders.

Mann grew up around the city’s leaders. Reid had been a critic of medical marijuana, but when Mann opened weGrow near the Oakland airport, in Reid’s council district, Reid was supportive.

“Dhar is probably one of the smartest and brightest young men I know,” Reid said before the May indictment. “He came up with a concept that everybody thought was interesting and unique, and he was the focus of attention across the country.” 

Reid also looked out for Mann. An April 2, 2010, police report shows Reid tipped off Christopher Miller, a friend and employee of Mann’s, about an Oakland police raid of his marijuana-growing operation.

The councilman says he simply confirmed with police that the raid was in progress and then told Miller, through Mann, to get an attorney.

 “I would do that for any constituent,” Reid said.   

But Councilwoman Jane Brunner said she had never heard of city council members taking similar action during police raids.

“I think generally as a city councilperson, if the police are involved in some action, it’s best to not be involved,” Brunner said. 

When election season came, Mann advised liquor scion Ben Bronfman, who was seeking one of the city’s scarce pot farm permits, to donate heavily to Reid’s re-election campaign, according to an email Mann sent Bronfman on Sept. 10, 2010.

“The reason I would go heavy is Reid has the largest commercial district in the City of Oakland, and most groups looking for space end up in his district, who are all trying to win over his favoritism,” Mann wrote in the email sent one month before the weGrow reopening celebration.

Bronfman, constant tabloid fodder because of his relationship with rapper M.I.A., later abandoned his Oakland plans and now is focusing on green technology. When contacted for comment, he said he was reluctant to speak for any story that might cast medical marijuana in a negative light.

2010 campaign donations

The rush to get a piece of the marijuana business in Oakland coincided with the 2010 city election, including a hotly contested three-way mayoral race with then-City Councilwoman Jean Quan, former state Sen. Don Perata and Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.

Quan received at least $5,300 from businesses, employees and people with ties to weGrow, Mann’s real estate company and the family’s taxi company. Perata got $7,100, including a $5,000 donation from Navjoyt Nagra, Mann’s friend and banker, to a political action committee that supported Perata. Mann himself was not a big individual giver.   

In addition, Councilwoman Desley Brooks received $1,900 from businesses, employees and others with ties to weGrow and the family’s taxi company. Mann’s family also hosted a fundraiser for former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s 2010 campaign for governor.

When Bronfman decided to test the medical marijuana market that fall, he turned to Mann. He agreed to pay $50,000 to the consulting firm of Mann and former business associate Derek Peterson, according to a lawsuit filed by Peterson – who claimed he didn’t get his share of the fee.

“I can handle all of your lobbying, I just need a budget and a face,” Mann wrote to Bronfman in the September 2010, email. Mann was never registered as an Oakland city lobbyist, according to filings with the city.

Mann also urged Bronfman’s team to donate to several campaigns. Although the individual campaign contribution limit is $700 per candidate, in the email, Mann advised Bronfman that his team could write checks to the same candidate from different entities.

“How would you like to handle the fundraising?” Mann wrote. “We need to decide how much you'd like to contribute and from which entity's (all contributions are public record so the account you write the check from is a strategic decision. Regardless the recipient will know it came from your group).”

For Bronfman’s team, Mann had recommended writing “3-4 checks ($2,100-$2,800)” for Brooks, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan and Quan. For the influential Perata, he recommended “8-10 checks” because “the new mayor chooses the City Administrator, who ultimately makes permitting decisions.” Mann also recommended “8-10 checks” for Reid.

With Kaplan, Mann wrote that he’d “already purchased several tables at her event next week which we can share, so this should run around $2k (3 checks).”

Under California campaign finance law, it is illegal to circumvent campaign limits by making donations through multiple accounts, according to Bob Stern, a campaign finance expert.

“It depends on whether the checks are from separate individuals or businesses (not controlled by the same person) or whether they are all from the same person,” Stern wrote in an email.

Campaign records indicate that in the end, Bronfman made one $700 donation to Kaplan under his name.

Adithya Sambamurthy/California Watch Dhar Mann (left) and architect Eddie Piatt take measurements in summer 2010 at a 57,000-square-foot warehouse where Mann planned to cultivate medical cannabis.

Las Vegas trips

Mann is known for his work hard, party hard ethic. That extended to his car of choice at the time, a black BMW M5 sports car, and his frequent trips to Las Vegas – and it appears that Mann wanted to bring Oakland politicians along for the ride.

In May 2010, De La Fuente, of the Oakland City Council, was in the midst of arranging a sit-down with Mann and representatives of other taxi companies battling over permits. In an email obtained by The Bay Citizen, Mann mentioned that he planned to book a flight to Vegas for De La Fuente.

“Hey good seeing you today,” Mann wrote on May 13 to De La Fuente’s scheduler. “I was going to book Ignacio’s flight to Vegas on Saturday, May 29-Monday, May 31. Can you confirm that works for him? And also what’s the spelling of his name for the flight?”

Later that day, De La Fuente’s scheduler responded.

“Ignacio said he would give you a call later today to give you final confirmation on travel for May 29-31,” the scheduler wrote. “The full spelling of his name would be IGNACIO DE LA FUENTE.”  

The councilman said he never took the trip.

“I’m not stupid enough to do that,” he said.

De La Fuente said he couldn’t remember why Mann had requested the trip: “Maybe it was a bachelor party or something.” He said his calendar was blank that weekend and he didn’t report any gifts of travel from Mann that year on his city disclosure forms.  

Another influential city official acknowledged that he spent time with Mann in Las Vegas. Deputy City Administrator Arturo Sanchez – who oversees the pot permit application process ­– said he used to be friends with Mann and did run into him in Las Vegas on one occasion. But he said he “never gambled with Dhar.” 

“No matter what my relationship with Dhar has been, I have distanced myself from all these types of past relationships because of these (medical marijuana) permits,” Sanchez said.

Michael Hunt, a former aide to De La Fuente who worked for weGrow in 2010, said Mann didn’t necessarily have any special advantage with city leaders because of his parents’ close relationships with them. Mann’s parents, Surinder and Baljit Singh, built Friendly Cab from scratch into the largest taxi company in Oakland and have been generous campaign contributors over the years. 

“But the manner in which (Mann) has attempted to highlight and capitalize on those relationships,” Hunt added, “probably attracted as many people to him as were scared away because of any lingering gray area or questions of ethics.”

Police raid tip-off

In the early afternoon of April 2, 2010, Oakland police officers descended on a West Oakland townhome suspected of housing an illegal marijuana-growing operation. In the middle of the raid, during which 11 officers seized 120 plants and 2 pounds of processed marijuana, police received a surprise visit from Miller, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound grower.

Miller ran an auto-body shop in Alameda. He was also a small-time grower, a member of Mann’s “Grow Squad” – weGrow’s answer to Best Buy’s technology-problem-solving Geek Squad – and was featured in a CNN special about weGrow.

Officers handcuffed Miller, who told them Reid had tipped him off to the raid.

“I know City Council Member Ignacio De La Fuente. I know Larry Reed (sic),” Miller said, according to the police report. “Larry Reed is who called me and told me to come here. He told me that you guys were here.”

Miller explained that an Oakland police lieutenant had contacted Reid, who in turn called him, the report says.

But Reid tells a different story, emphasizing in an interview that he hadn’t done any special favors for Mann. It was Mann, not a police officer, who called Reid to inform him of the raid, Reid said. Reid said he then called the police to confirm the raid was taking place but did not interfere with the investigation.

“I told (the Oakland Police Department) to do what you gotta do,” he said. Reid said he then called Mann back and advised him to tell Miller “to go to his house and deal with the issue and get a lawyer.”

 

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson called the arrival of Miller in the middle of the raid “highly unusual,” but said she would not comment on “anything to do with the city councilman, because that’s complete hearsay.”

Miller’s lawyer, Kali Grech, said that regardless, she didn’t think Miller benefited from Mann’s political connections.

Her client is “friends with a lot of higher-ups,” Grech said. “Unfortunately, they couldn't do a lot to get the DA not to charge him.”

Miller was charged with two felonies, but struck a plea agreement: He received no jail time and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and Robert Salladay and copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.

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New book discounts theory of marijuana as top US cash crop

For years, legalization advocates have argued that marijuana is America’s leading cash crop, outranking corn, wheat, soy and a host of other heartland staples produced on an industrial scale.

Bringing pot production above ground, the argument goes, could produce a $30 billion tax bonanza for cash-strapped governments and a huge savings for law enforcement and prisons.

But new research dumps cold water on many of these claims, concluding that far from being America’s biggest cash crop, marijuana probably isn’t even in the top five. Rather, marijuana might make the top 15, “ranking somewhere between almonds and hay and perhaps closest to potatoes and grapes,” the researchers say.

These findings are part of a new book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know," by a team of researchers and public policy experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Pepperdine University, UCLA and the RAND Corp. 

The authors, Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Mark Kleiman and Beau Kilmer, analyze the costs and benefits of legalizing marijuana, challenging many commonly held assumptions on both sides of the issue. 

In particular, the authors take aim at a widely cited 2006 report by Jon Gettman, a former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, that valued America’s annual marijuana production at a whopping $35.8 billion.

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Rat poison in remote pot gardens linked to rare wildlife deaths

Toxic chemicals used to rid rodents from illicit marijuana gardens in the Sierra Nevada range and elsewhere in California may have inadvertently poisoned dozens of vulnerable weasel-like mammals called fishers, according to a new study released today.

Biologists from UC Davis, the nonprofit Integral Ecology Research Center, and state and federal land agencies found that nearly 80 percent of a sample size of fishers found dead in the wild were exposed directly or indirectly to anticoagulant rodenticides – rat poison. They point to illegal marijuana cultivation as a likely culprit for the introduction of the chemicals to remote areas where the animals live.

Fishers are members of the weasel family and formerly ranged across the northern forests of North America. But logging and fur trappers lured by their once-valuable pelts drove the fishers' numbers down, wiping them out in some parts of the United States. The sample group of the rare animals, which could be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, were found over a five-year period ending in 2011 in Northern California and in the southern Sierra Nevada range. Some of the dead animals were found in remote wilderness areas with no roads or campground access.

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Mendocino County pot program at risk after raid

On Oct. 13, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided Northstone Organics, a medical marijuana co-op farm in Mendocino County.

On Oct. 13, heavily armed Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Northstone Organics, a medical marijuana cooperative in Mendocino County. The farm is part of a county-wide program that remains the only effort in California to impose local controls on marijuana production. The program has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for the sheriff's department and has become a model for other counties looking to bring order to the medical marijuana industry.

The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED examined Mendocino's experiment in legalizing medical marijuana cultivation in this summer's PBS FRONTLINE episode "The Pot Republic" and has obtained exclusive access to footage from the Oct. 13 raid.

This reporting is part of an ongoing investigation by CIR, FRONTLINE and KQED.

Watch California Raids Threaten Medical Marijuana Regulation on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

In California, federal prosecutors are cracking down on the state’s booming marijuana industry. The state was the first to make medical marijuana legal, but the feds claim the law is now a shelter for illegal profiteers. Reporter Michael Montgomery looks at how the crackdown is affecting one pioneering effort to regulate medical marijuana production. Our story was produced as part of a collaboration of the Center for Investigative Reporting, FRONTLINE and KQED Public Radio.

Reporter Michael Montgomery: Matthew Cohen cultivates medicinal marijuana on a 7-acre farm set amid rolling vineyards in Northern California. And for the past year, he’s been operating legally – atleast in the eyes of local law enforcement. His marijuana plants are protected by these tags.

Matt Cohen: It says Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department on it; it’s upside down, though.

Reporter: This program is unique in California and has allowed Cohen’s nonprofit cooperative to expand around the state. 

Cohen: We’re about 1,700 members now. 

Reporter: County rules allow Cohen to grow up to 99 plants ¬– provided he submits to inspections by sheriff’s deputies and complies with state law. It’s enough marijuana to keep his co-op members supplied for many months.

Cohen: We were just getting ready to start harvesting. You know, we figured that we were compliant with state law and compliant with local regulations, and that’s not what the federal government was interested in.

Reporter: But Cohen was wrong. On October 13th, heavily armed federal agents stormed Cohen’s compound.  

Cohen: This is where our dogs were sleeping when they started barking, then I looked out the window and saw all the cars. Four or five, you know, federal agent vehicles – you could tell with the blacked-out windows and the blacked-out rims, come cruising in here very fast. Everybody hopped out of the car very quickly. I told my wife, “We’re being raided.” They said, “Open up, federal agents; we have a warrant.” And I said, “I’m opening the door right now,” and I opened the door to ¬– you know, they had the battering ram ready to go through the door, and they grabbed me, slammed me up against the wall here, cuffed me.

Reporter: As the agents searched other buildings on the property, Cohen’s state-of-the-art security system recorded their moves.

Cohen: There’s a machine gun right there.

Reporter: Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana remains illegal, and drug agents are stepping up raids across the state to curtail California’s marijuana industry.

Cohen: Here, you can see that they tore through all our camping stuff, and this is recycling that they went through.

Reporter: Before the agents discovered most of Cohen’s surveillance gear, cameras caught them searching through his business files. Meticulous record-keeping is required by county law. But there’s a twist: The same documents that allow Cohen to operate legally in Mendocino can be used against him as evidence in a federal criminal prosecution. It was only after the DEA raid was under way that Sheriff Tom Allman learned one of the farmers in his inspection program was the target.

Allman: That afternoon, after I assumed that everything had cleared, I called Matt Cohen. I asked him how he was treated. He said he was treated fair, he said he wasn’t arrested and said that they cut down marijuana plants, 99, and I believe that’s what their records show also. I assured him that in my opinion, as far as local and state laws were concerned, he was abiding by those laws.

Reporter: Days before the raid on Cohen’s farm, California’s four U.S. attorneys announced a major offensive against the state’s marijuana industry.

Melinda Haag: One of the reasons that we are making these announcements today is to try to put to rest the notion that large marijuana businesses can shelter themselves under state law and operate without fear of federal enforcement.

Reporter: Targets also include property owners who lease land to growers and distributors. Even newspapers and magazines that carry ads for medical marijuana are under scrutiny.

Joseph Russoniello: The folks that say, “Here I am, and I dare you,’ they make themselves prime targets by their audacity and by the size of their operation.

Reporter: Joseph Russoniello served as a U.S. attorney under four presidents. He says advertising is just one indication that most medical marijuana outfits in California are legitimate targets for the feds.

Russoniello: I think the U.S. attorneys would agree that 96-98 percent of all the operators in the state were out of compliance because they were commercial enterprises; they were not limiting themselves to people in their jurisdiction. As soon as you cross county lines, packaging it, suggesting you have a client base or patients really are all over the state, you are basically in a commercial enterprise for profit.

[Chanting]

Reporter: The crackdown triggered protests and a lawsuit from medical marijuana supporters. They accused the Obama administration of backtracking on what they say were earlier promises to leave states alone when it comes to medical marijuana. In Mendocino County, officials worry that the raid on Matt Cohen’s farm undercuts their effort to strictly regulate marijuana growing.

John McCowen: People are wondering what is behind this, what happens next, am I personally at risk. We had an individual who was doing everything they can do to be as legal as they could with local and state law, adhering strictly to the letter of the law all the way down the line. If the feds are going to raid him, then no one is safe.

Reporter: John McCowen didn’t start out as a medical marijuana advocate. In fact, he supported bans on outdoor growing. But he says the county’s modest cultivation program has helped bring order out of chaos.

McCowen: By bringing the production of medical marijuana above ground, to a place where it is regulated by the sheriff, arguably tremendously increases public safety and environmental protection. The raid, if it has the impact of driving people out of the program and back underground, will have the opposite effect.

Cohen: Well, here’s what’s left. Right there.

Cohen: It certainly sends the message that the federal government would prefer that collectives and co-ops operate underground, unregulated. It’s appalling to me that illegal farms are existing all around this county and that they’re going to come after us.

Reporter: In fact, local law enforcement continues to target large-scale illegal pot farms. And they’re using fees collected from permitted growers to help pay for raids and officer training. Justice Department officials declined to comment on Mendocino’s ordinance. And while the feds have yet to directly challenge the program in court, the recent raids leave the Sheriff’s Department squeezed between local and federal law. 

Allman: If the Mendocino County ordinance is in violation of federal law, I want to be told that by the highest court in the land. But if it’s not in violation, I want to be told that, too. 

Russoniello: Look, we have consequences. There are things that we have to do to enforce federal law, whether you’re in the way of our doing it or you’re half-heartedly cooperating with us, or you’re indifferent to us – the fact of the matter is, we have federal mandates; we will follow those laws.

Reporter: Russoniello says federal prosecutors in the other 15 states with medical marijuana and laws and the District of Columbia will be following the crackdown in California closely.

The raid on Cohen’s farm is cited in a recent lawsuit filed by Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Melinda Haag, accusing them of using coercive tactics to interfere with the powers delegated to the states.   

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Calif., Ky. officials at odds over amount of pot in NFL case

A war of words has erupted between state drug officials and a Kentucky prosecutor over the investigation of an NFL player who last year received two pounds of marijuana shipped to his home from Northern California.

Officials in the two states are at odds over the amount of marijuana that was found at the Crestview Hills, Ky., home of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, 26. Rob Sanders, the Kenton commonwealth's attorney who originally charged Simpson with a count of marijuana trafficking of more than 8 ounces, said a potentially broader investigation was stymied when California drug officials publicly disclosed the case last September. California officials disagree.

"Normally in drug trafficking cases, we hope to work up the supply chain to catch the 'bigger fish,' " Sanders wrote in an e-mail. "The (California) press conference alerted the world that law enforcement was investigating Mr. Simpson. Any time law enforcement loses the element of surprise, it compromises officer safety, especially in undercover operations."

 

A package with two pounds of marijuana was delivered Sept. 20 to Simpson’s home, where an additional amount – a little under a pound – was found, along with related paraphernalia in various locations and containers, Sanders wrote. 

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Prominent Berkeley marijuana dispensary to close shop

One of California’s biggest medical marijuana establishments – embraced by local officials as a model business that donates to the poor and pays millions in taxes – has become the latest target in a statewide crackdown by federal prosecutors. 

Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999 by leading names in the state’s medical marijuana movement, will cease operations at its current location later this year, according to an agreement between the dispensary’s owners and the landlord. The document was signed on Feb. 28 by Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay.

“Berkeley Patients Group agrees to cease all cannabis-related activities and remove all cannabis-related property from the premises by May 1, 2012,” the document states. Legal experts said agreements of this kind can be revised, but it was unclear if that was possible in this case.

The decision to shutter the outlet on San Pablo Avenue was triggered by a warning from Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California. In a letter sent to the owner of the building that houses the dispensary, Haag said federal prosecutors would file a forfeiture action if marijuana continued to be distributed at the location. Berkeley Patients Group has leased the property since 1999 and operates under a city license. 

 

The letter cited violations of federal law and the fact that the outlet is within 1,000 feet of two schools: the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness, which also houses a preschool, and Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, a French bilingual grade school.

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Under federal pressure, Mendocino pulls plug on marijuana program

This week, officials in Mendocino County, Northern California, are expected to pull the plug on an unusual program that put pot growing under supervision of the local sheriff. It was the first effort of its kind in the nation and proved a success, at least in the eyes of many locals. But, as Michael Montgomery reports, federal prosecutors took a different view.

TRANSCRIPT:

Reporter Michael Montgomery: Call it weed détente. For years, Mendocino County, like other places in Northern California, struggled to contain an explosion in pot growing, especially since the state legalized the use of medical marijuana. So two years ago, officials decided to try something completely new – legalize medical marijuana production under strict conditions. And they gave the job to a barrel-chested sheriff's sergeant named Randy Johnson.

Randy Johnson: Prior to July, when the program started, what I knew about marijuana was chop it down and haul it to the evidence locker. (Crowd laughs.)

Reporter: That's Johnson speaking at a local library last year. It was one of dozens of meetings with growers aimed at coaxing them out of the shadows. Johnson tells the group they're allowed to cultivate enough medical marijuana to support a real business – but only if they follow environmental rules, submit to inspections by the cops and pay hefty fees. 

 

Johnson: I haven't had a single complaint on any of your gardens, and I thank you for that. (Applause)

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Drug agents closing in on NFL player's pot supplier

California drug enforcement agents say they are closing in on the suspected marijuana suppliers to pro football player Jerome Simpson, four months after the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver received a 2.5-pound package of Northern California pot sent to his suburban Kentucky home.

The investigation likely includes at least one other person with ties to the National Football League, a state Department of Justice spokeswoman said.

“We’re following up on leads in Northern California and getting close to wrapping that up,” said Michelle Gregory, the spokeswoman. “It’s going to be pretty big.”

Simpson, 25, was indicted Thursday by a grand jury in Kenton County, Ky., on a charge of trafficking more than 8 ounces of marijuana, according to the indictment. Simpson’s attorney, Burr Travis, said the case starts and stops with his client, who plans to plead not guilty at his Jan. 30 arraignment.

In what authorities say is an unrelated investigation, another NFL player, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd, also faces drug-trafficking charges following his arrest last month in Chicago. Police reportedly have a "double-digit" list of players to whom he supplied drugs.

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