Feds Target Pot Shop Landlords

By McCarton Ackerman 06/14/12

Landlords who own properties where MMJ is sold are being threatened with foreclosure.

"Open" but maybe not for long. Photo via

In a new angle of attack against the medical marijuana industry, federal prosecutors are targeting landlords who preside over pot shops. By using a civil statute that was designed to seize the assets of drug-trafficking organizations, the authorities are pressing landlords to shut down the shops or else they face losing their properties. Even in states like California where MMJ businesses are legal, the federal government questions their authority to operate—according to the 40-year-old Controlled Substances act. Going after landlords is considered a less extreme mode of attack, which appeals to prosecutors; they don't want to be considered "soft" on drug crime, but by pressing criminal charges, they would risk losing support for their movement. In addition, targeting landlords requires less manpower, since notifications take place via mail and civil actions. "We can get on the Internet, identify a store and have someone drive by and find out if it is operating," says Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. "That is a whole lot different from conducting a criminal investigation, going out and making buys and conducting surveillance." So far, Mrozek says 200 illegal marijuana storefronts being closed in his district, thanks to asset-forfeiture lawsuits and warning letters sent to dozens of area property owners. However, marijuana advocates are not convinced this approach will be effective in convincing MMJ shops to close down. Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, claims: "they will simply move next door and the whole process, as we've seen time and time again, simply starts over."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.