LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly a year after U.S. attorneys in California pledged to crack down on medical marijuana, federal prosecutors filed three lawsuits Tuesday against properties in Los Angeles that house pot shops and sent 68 letters warning other sites to close or face possible charges.
The move came as the nation’s second-largest city struggles to regulate clinics that have proliferated in recent years. Los Angeles could soon face a possible referendum targeting a ban approved by the City Council on pot shops.
Council members must decide by next week whether to call a special election for the measure, repeal it themselves or put it on the March 2013 ballot.
California’s four U.S. attorneys pledged last October to curb pot collectives they said were running afoul of the law by raking in huge sums of money and serving as fronts for drug traffickers. Proponents argue the dispensaries are protected by California law that allows medicinal use of marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
“As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. “Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”
Los Angeles passed an ordinance two years ago that was supposed to shutter hundreds of pot dispensaries while capping the number in operation at 70.
But a set of legal challenges against the city by collectives and the recent expiration of the ordinance due to a sundowner clause led to another surge of pot shops. City officials said more than 750 collectives have registered with the city and as many as 200 more could exist.
The state Supreme Court is expected to address whether local governments can ban medical marijuana clinics, but a hearing hasn’t been set by the high court.
About 375 pot stores and growing operations have been targeted in the Central District of California, which stretches from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino counties.
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