Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in California, continued federal efforts to suppress the drug, wildly inconsistent rulings by the courts and conflicting decisions by localities make it hard to describe cannabis as a normal part of everyday life in the state.
But that might be hard to tell walking around the Organicann Harvest Market in Sonoma County, touted as the state’s first marijuana farmers’ market. Operating out of a warehouse in an unincorporated part of the county, the still federally illegal drug is on full display every third Saturday of the month for the enthusiastic crowds that line up to shop for bud.
In addition to local pot enthusiasts, buyers for large dispensaries like Harborside Health Center in the Bay Area show up to shop, according to a reporter for Modern Farmer. The professionals rub shoulders with “aging grandmas with short gray hair and faded North Face fleece . . . retired cowboys” and “20-something girls in Ugg boots and black tights.”
Rows of booths stuffed with produce like Pineapple Thai, Super Mango and Blue Dream belie the fact that growers and sellers risk arrest, incarceration and heavy fines for their activities.
Just last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office took action against 63 pot shops in Santa Ana. The authorities executed search warrants at two locations, filed asset forfeiture complaints against three properties where seven stores are located and sent threatening letters to 56 other parties. The letters give operators and landlords two weeks to clean up their acts or risk civil or criminal actions. The federal actions were done in coordination with local Santa Ana authorities.
California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and authorized nonprofit cooperatives as dispensaries in 2004. But federal law continues to criminalize possession and sale of pot. The federal government was content to let California roll out its pot shops statewide without interference until the end of 2011 when the four U.S. Attorneys representing the Department of Justice began shutting some of them down, grabbing the property and arresting their owners.
Last January, dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and intent to distribute at his G3 Holistic facilities.