OAKLAND -- Anyone running a marijuana farm is a potential target for federal prosecution, regardless of whether Oakland or California laws allow it, the U.S. attorney warned in a letter to the city Tuesday.
The letter was written by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California to Oakland City Attorney John Russo, in response to a letter Russo had sent Haag two weeks ago. Russo was asking for clarification about what legal concerns the city would face under federal law with its medicinal marijuana policies, which may soon include sanctioned grow farms.
Haag's letter was clear: Pot is against federal law, period.
Further, Haag wrote, anyone who "knowingly facilitates" others to commit the crimes associated with pot growing is also breaking federal law. It was unclear whether Haag meant to warn or threaten Oakland's individual City Council members, or other city employees or property. A spokesman for Haag declined to comment Wednesday beyond what was said in the letter.
The City Council had tabled talking about the ordinance for more than a month, after warnings from Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley that the proposal -- which the council had already passed, but not put into motion -- could land the council members themselves in jail, as it wasn't in line with California law.
A new draft, which aimed to fix the state law problem, was written by Councilmember Desley Brooks (Seminary-Easmont), who said Wednesday she is not cowed by Haag's letter, believing the U.S. attorney read an old draft of the ordinance.
"I agree with them it would violate state law," Brooks said of the old draft. "Under the law, cultivation of marijuana is illegal. There's no debate about that, but that's not what we're doing. We're trying to regulate an industry to make it safe for people with medical issues to get their medicine."
The new draft has specific language establishing a "closed-loop" relationship between cultivators and distributors -- which would keep the marijuana only in the hands of patients -- as well as making the patient relationships more explicit, which Brooks said address some concerns under state law.
In the letter, Haag wrote that the Justice Department "does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law."
However, she added, the U.S. Justice Department "is carefully considering civil and criminal legal remedies regarding those who seek to set up industrial marijuana growing warehouses in Oakland pursuant to licenses issued by the city."
Under consideration are injunctions, fines, criminal prosecution and property forfeitures, Haag wrote.
Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) said she felt Russo shouldn't have sent his request in the first place.
"To ask them what we can do that would be acceptable to them is absurd, because as long as cannabis on the federal side is considered a Class 1 drug, they're not going to be able to tell us anything is OK," Nadel said. "Now (the Oakland ordinance) is even clearer on their radar on their screen, and that could inhibit further what we can do with state law."
Russo spokesman Alex Katz said the request was sent at the behest of the council after a closed session meeting.
Brooks' new draft of the ordinance, as well as an alternative proposal expected from Russo's office Thursday, will be discussed at the Public Safety Committee meeting Feb. 8. The full council will discuss the issue again at their Feb. 15 meeting.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.