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Originally published May 1, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Page modified May 2, 2013 at 5:54 AM

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DEA: Warning letters to 11 pot dispensaries don’t signal war on state law

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration sent cease-and-desist letters to 11 medical-marijuana dispensaries but maintains that the crackdown does not signal a federal war on Washington state’s new legal-pot law.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Cease-and-desist letters were sent to 11 Seattle-area pot dispensaries because they are within 1,000 feet of schools or other prohibited areas, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The DEA would not identify the businesses or their precise locations.

Despite Washington state’s new legal recreational-pot law, enacted by voter-approved Initiative 502, all forms of marijuana remain illegal under federal law. A policy statement from the Obama administration is supposedly coming on the new legal-pot laws in Colorado and Washington.

DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the 11 dispensaries received the same letters that went to 23 local dispensaries last August. She said the letters, dated April 29, did not have implications for Washington’s and Colorado’s new laws.

“DEA enforces federal drug laws, and these letters have nothing to do with any pending legislation or state law. The ballot initiatives in both states are under review by DOJ (the Department of Justice),” she said.

John Davis, a local dispensary owner who did not receive a DEA letter, has a different take. Davis contends the DEA did not send letters to some dispensaries with “egregious proximity to schools, playgrounds and child care.”

He believes the crackdown is related to the new recreational-pot laws.

The federal government “sees too much money and the whole looming specter of recreational cannabis going down,” Davis said. “It has more to do with keeping investors’ enthusiasm under control than any proximity” to schools, he said.

There appears to be investor enthusiasm. Medical Marijuana Daily, an industry journal, reports that a Delaware-based private-equity firm has created a $250 million fund to offer loans and credit to marijuana-related businesses with interest rates from 15 to 28 percent — because of the risky nature of the industry.

The DEA letters warned dispensary operators and landlords that the pot businesses appear to be within 1,000 feet of a prohibited area, which tend to be places such as schools and playgrounds frequented by youngsters. The DEA told recipients of the letters to stop distributing marijuana within 30 days or face property seizure and forfeiture.

“As we continue to identify locations, additional letters will be sent out,” Underwood said.

Underwood said the federal government doesn’t have the resources to go after every medical-marijuana business, so it focuses on high-priority areas such as those near schools.

The DEA sent letters to 63 dispensaries in California’s Orange County last week. But a Department of Justice spokesman and California marijuana activists saw those actions as part of a continuing crackdown in Orange County rather than a signal of new federal policy in Colorado and Washington.

Last week a DOJ spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., responded to questions about legal pot with a terse statement: “The legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado are still under review by the Department.”

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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