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Federal agents bring crackdown on ‘illegal’ medical marijuana dispensaries to Santa Barbara County

Product at a typical marijuana dispensary.
Product at a typical marijuana dispensary.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The statewide crackdown on medical marijuana -- initiated late last year by the federal government -- moved north to Santa Barbara County this week, as U.S. attorneys announced they are suing, threatening and searching businesses they believe are conducting illegal pot sales.

“Federal authorities this week filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana operations in Santa Barbara County, executed search warrants at four locations, and have sent warning letters to people associated with 10 other illegal marijuana stores in the county,” the Department of Justice said in a statement released today out of its Los Angeles office.

According to the statement, the three forfeiture lawsuits were aimed at a pot collective in Summerland which made around $840,000 in profits in 2009, a pot collective in Santa Barbara which failed to obtain its claimed nonprofit tax status, and an indoor pot farm in Santa Barbara “where substandard and unpermitted electrical equipment has been used.”

This week’s moves in Santa Barbara County follow similar actions by U.S. Attorneys in Riverside, San Bernardino, L.A. and Orange counties.

Reuters cites a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office as saying that so far federal authorities have gone after about 150 pot dispensaries across California, and most have been shut down.

The crackdown is part of continuing fallout from Proposition 215, which California voters approved in 1996. Known as the “Compassionate Use Act,” the measure legalized limited sales of marijuana for medical use, but conflicts with federal law prohibiting such sales.

But federal prosecutors say the medical marijuana industry in California has been evolving, and much of it today has little to do with the measure’s original intention of “compassionate use.”

Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the southern district of California, told KPCC’s Patt Morrison in an October 2011 broadcast that the medical marijuana industry has gotten away from its original purpose as stated in Prop 215, and is “turning more and more into a marijuana retail, for-profit industry.”