SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) wants a
federal court to order California regulators to turn over documents
about cannabis licenses and shipping manifests. The Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) originally subpoenaed the documents
from the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) in January.
According to documents the DOJ filed Monday in the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of California, the DEA seeks “unredacted
cannabis license(s), unredacted cannabis license application(s),
and unredacted shipping manifest(s).” The department “seeks the
documents for only six entities, which include three corporations
and each corporation’s presumed owner; and it seeks the documents
for a limited period of roughly two years, stated as ‘January 1, 2018,
to present.’” The companies and owners are not named in the filing.
The BCC, which regulates California’s legal cannabis industry, declined to comply with the DEA’s initial request in January, citing privacy concerns and the DEA’s refusal to provide a reason it wants the material. Though BCC has turned down the DEA subpoena several times since then, this week’s petition would require the state agency to relinquish the records to federal investigators.
Application documents, the BCC said, contain private, personal information of applicants, and information from shipping manifests is classified as confidential under state seed-to-sale regulations.
In Monday’s petition, the DEA argued that details of its investigations also are confidential, under the Controlled Substances Act.
Operating in a quasi-legal grey space, cannabis businesses in legal states are technically still federally illegal, despite being sanctioned by state and local authorities. The possibility of a federal raid, followed by arrest and prosecution, is a risk that still exists for legal cannabis operators and their employees, despite state level legalization.
Some industry and legal experts have speculated whether the recent DEA petition signals a more hands-on approach toward legal cannabis businesses by federal authorities. Others have mentioned concerns that President Trump, with his new “law and order” campaign platform, may take any opportunity to allow federal authorities to sweep through liberal, left-leaning California.
Because shipping manifests were requested by the DEA, there also has been speculation that authorities may be looking for indications of interstate transport of cannabis, which would be federally illegal.
The petition has requested that the BCC comply with the subpoena within seven days of an order being issued. The case is filed as United States of America v. The Bureau of Cannabis Control.