That's the title of a lengthy piece in yesterday's Bakersfield.com, which is excerpted below:
Federal law enforcement officials are the wild card in the regulation of medical marijuana in California. Sometimes they play the trump. Sometimes they're not even in the game.
When storefront shops selling medical marijuana first appeared in Kern County, the Drug Enforcement Administration aggressively raided them and federal prosecutors filed charges against the operators.
Then federal intervention slacked under a new administration and the burden of hefty law enforcement costs.
Now, U.S. Attorneys' offices are warning California cities and counties that they could face criminal or civil action if they try to regulate marijuana under state law.
Kern County has received that threat and taken it seriously -- factoring it into an Aug. 9 decision to ban storefront collectives and cooperatives in unincorporated county areas.
But is there really a risk of federal prosecution? It's unclear.
. . . with limited resources, the office has to pick the cases it brings carefully, he said.
But Wagner said his office retains the power to prosecute or file civil suits against local governments that act to permit medical marijuana activity.
That, said Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner, leaves Kern County in legal danger.
"It is my job to advise the Board of Supervisors of the risk that regulation entails to the county, county officials and county employees. I am satisfied that it is a genuine risk," she said. "But it is a risk that is difficult to quantify."
On Aug. 9, Kern County supervisors passed a ban on medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives over the objections of a vocal, impassioned crowd of advocates who called for the county to regulate, not outlaw, the storefront operations.
Marijuana, even for medical purposes allowed under California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act, is illegal under federal law.
In making their decision, supervisors relied on an Aug. 4 letter from Wagner, sent at the request of Goldner, which indicated that by regulating medical marijuana growing and distribution, counties and cities would essentially be putting themselves in business with criminals.
* * *
When he took office in 2007, [Kern County Sheriff Donny] Youngblood made it clear that he wouldn't enforce the ordinance in place at the time that allowed up to six medical marijuana dispensaries -- because it violated federal law.
His stance hasn't changed.
"I will not take part in any regulation of anything that is a violation of federal law," Youngblood said.
He sees medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives as illegal. Period.
* * *
The county took a bit of a risk in August when it also placed a 12-plant limit on any marijuana grown on a parcel of land in unincorporated parts of the county.
Wagner said that while those small grows are still a felony under federal law, "in the real world" of limited resources and larger problems, that "would not be a priority for us."
But Wagner was careful, even in saying that, not to relinquish the federal government's right to prosecute small grows.
And that is what troubles Goldner as she tries to advise supervisors on how to move forward with regulation of collectives and cooperatives.
An ordinance that controls collectives will demand enforcement by the county.
"It's going to require a great deal of regulation. And that translates into a great deal of taxpayer money and involves a great deal of county employee time and resources," she said.
And "the more involvement the county has, the closer the county gets to being in the danger zone in terms of federal prosecution. And that's the rub."
Wagner told her as much on Thursday, she said.
"The message that I got from Mr. Wagner, loud and clear, is there is no safe harbor," Goldner said.