Santa Barbara Medical Marijuana Crackdown

AUGUST 27, 2008 - In a widening federal crackdown against medical cannabis collectives in Santa Barbara, a federal grand jury indicted John Seidenberg, 41, of Santa Ynez on Aug. 26th for growing two medical marijuana gardens for the Hortipharm collective.

Seidenberg, who was originally arrested on state charges, had been preparing a Prop. 215 defense in state court, but he was turned over for federal prosecution by a Santa Barbara sheriff's deputy.

Seidenberg was charged with two indoor trailer grows, each over 100 plants, totaling more than 1,000 small plants and clones. No money or guns were found in the raids. Seidenberg says that he and Hortipharm had taken pains to operate within the law, and that he was well within the AG's guidelines for collective gardens, which allow 6 plants per patient, since he was growing for some 2,000 Hortipharm members. Under the AG's guidelines, state law enforcement personnel are not supposed to turn legal 215 growers over for federal prosecution.

Seidenberg joins over 100 other California defendants who have been federally charged with medical marijuana offenses since passage of Prop. 215. Those charged since September 2001 are listed here.

Seidenberg is appealing for support for his legal defense. "I have a family and kids and am being persecuted for helping the sick and dying," he says.

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara's half-dozen remaining dispensaries face imminent closure in the face of intense federal pressure against their landlords, who have been threatened with property forfeiture.

In an extraordinary action, US Dept of Justice personnel recently met with landlords and personally warned them that forfeiture charges would be instituted if they did not evict their tenants in 45 days (i.e., Sept 19th). Although the DEA has send out hundreds of forfeiture warning letters to dispensary landlords throughout California, Santa Barbara is the only place where DOJ officials have followed up with personal meetings. DOJ officials are said to have boasted of making an "example" of Santa Barbara.

The DEA's actions do not reflect local sentiment in Santa Barbara, where 65% of voters approved an initiative to make marijuana low priority in 2006. At one point the city had as many as 19 cannabis clubs. Following complaints about one or two of them, the City Council passed an ordinance to license, regulate and limit their number. Nonetheless, the DEA has insisted on ordering city-licensed clubs to close.

"The federal government's high-handed actions are in blatant disregard of community sentiment, the will of the voters of Santa Barbara and California, and Americans' rights to freedom of medicine and security of property. The net result will be to increase marijuana crime and arrests, and decrease the tax revenues from legal medical cannabis commerce," comments California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer.