A Washington based group of marijuana temperance advocates are utilizing a law as out of place in the legal marijuana industry as their antiquated views of cannabis are in today’s common sense values. Since Safe Streets Alliance can’t touch legalized pot shops through state marijuana laws, they’re applying racketeering laws designed in the 1970’s to curb organized crime.

In The Sopranos when they talk about “RICO predicates” and “RICO trials,” what they’re referring to is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO was meant to penalize companies for shady doings with the mafia and also to give legal recourse to businesses affected by organized crime. Safe Streets is using a technicality (that no one has gotten around to removing marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances) to use both RICO angles to get at Colorado pot shops, according to The Cannabist.

The group is suing at least two different stores on behalf of other area businesses who claim that the marijuana storefronts are shrinking their property values. Though the case has yet to even go before a judge, the legal action has already forced one shop to close. Safe Streets sued Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, then named the store’s bank and bonding company as co-plaintiffs in the suit for aiding in (technically, federally) criminal activities.

The interest group successfully scared off both the bonding company and bank, who then each ceased business with MMR and issued statements stating they intend to walk away from the cannabis industry as a whole.

“I am being buried in legal procedure,” MMR owner Jerry Olson wrote. After an “everything-must-go” sale, where ounces went for $120 each, Olson’s business finally folded in April.

Safe Streets is a seemingly well-funded and determined group, the same one who threatened the state of Colorado earlier this year with a lawsuit for legalizing marijuana. The extremity of their beliefs is made plain by a recent statement from the group’s lawyer, Brian Barnes. “We’re putting a bounty on the heads of anyone doing business with the marijuana industry,” Barnes said. “Just because you see what appears to be this unstoppable growth of marijuana, we disagree. We’re starting to change the economics of the marijuana industry.”

Though they’ve succeeded in closing one of approximately one million pot shops in Colorado, their efforts aren’t so much changing the economics of the industry as much as they are forcing sensible lawmakers to hurry up and revise state and federal laws so that they won’t be misused in the manner Safe Streets is employing.

A similarly sloppy application of old laws to regulate the legal cannabis business can be seen in California, where extractors using butane and other chemical solvents are charged under the same law as a meth cook, because they are both federally designated “controlled substances.”

These laws were not drafted with the intent of incarcerating and pestering business people and medical marijuana caregivers. Safe Streets can have fun tossing stones into the tide to see if they turn it back though.


Image via Thomas Cizauskas

Parker Winship