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Costa Mesa dispensaries still selling pot

Recent federal crackdown has yet to snuff out marijuana sales here. Newport has no shops.

October 11, 2011|By Joseph Serna
(Don Leach )

COSTA MESA — Police and local marijuana dispensary owners said they will take their cues from federal authorities on how to proceed in light of last week's announcement that the U.S. Attorney's office is ramping up enforcement against pot collectives in California.

"We're in wait-and-see mode," said Jeff Byrne, director of American Collective, a cannabis club on Cabrillo Street. "It looks to me to be a play to take property. Too early to tell."

Last week, California's four U.S. attorneys gathered in Sacramento and announced that they were going after the state's marijuana dispensary businesses, which are federally prohibited.

Federal officials have filed lawsuits in several counties to seize property and money from alleged for-profit marijuana businesses and sent letters to dozens more — including some in Orange County — ordering them to shut down within 45 days.

Criminal cases have been launched in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno.

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"While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances by legitimate caregivers, it does not allow the brick-and-mortar, Costco or Walmart model we see across California," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S attorney for California's central district. "Yet the commercial marijuana industry ignores the significant restrictions imposed by state law and now revels in what some in the marijuana business call a new California gold rush."

There are more than 1,000 dispensaries in California's central district, and local officials estimate there are more than 50 in Costa Mesa.

The only collectives known to Newport Beach police were shut down earlier this year, said Newport police Lt. Bill Hartford.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles, said there hasn't been any direct enforcement against Costa Mesa dispensaries yet.

"The department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers," said U.S. Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole in a prepared statement.

Authorities are focusing on businesses close to schools and on cities where shutting down an operation has become too expensive for a city to defend in court alone.

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