Feds targeting pot growers and dispensaries

FRESNO, Calif.

U.S. attorneys put all pot dispensaries on notice Friday, and singled out several Central Valley dispensaries and land owners.

The feds say anyone who sells or grows marijuana, and anyone who owns property where it's sold or grown is in their crosshairs.

Federal prosecutors say all of the state's dispensaries could be shut down in 45 days.

"We are targeting commercial operations which profit from growing and distributing marijuana and which often use the trappings of state law for cover, but in fact are abusing state law," said Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, which includes the Central Valley.

At a press conference in Sacramento, federal prosecutors singled out two properties where investigators have found marijuana.

In July, federal agents and Fresno County sheriff's deputies seized about 25,000 marijuana plants from a 54-acre plot near Sanger.

That property owner tells Action News he's doing exactly what federal prosecutors want after being singled out in the press conference.

Goon Pattanumotana owns the land that hosted what agents called the biggest pot grow they've ever busted.

He says he thinks the feds are bluffing, but he doesn't want pot growing on his land anyway, so he's cooperating.

An aerial view shows just how massive the pot farm was on his property when federal agents and sheriff's deputies raided it in July.

It took two days to clear out the entire 54 acres and 25,000 marijuana plants.

Now, weeds have replaced the weed on the field.

The property owner says he's still getting rid of some of the dozens of people who rented the land. "A lot of the lease holders leasing the property have abandoned the property," said Goon Pattanumotana. "There's only a few stragglers and we'll go ahead with the eviction proceedings."

Federal prosecutors filed a civil forfeiture complaint against it, asking a judge to give them the right to seize the property, and another owned by the same family.

Action News spotted marijuana plants still growing on that second property. But Pattanumotana says his family is washing its hands of the pot business to save their multi-million dollar investment in the land.

"It harms reputations and not only that, we do not want our properties to be seized just because of someone else growing medicinal marijuana," he said.

Prosecutors say they've sent warning letters to property owners at pot grows and landlords at pot dispensaries.

They say they don't want to take any property, but they want the option to punish land owners who allow the marijuana business to prosper.

"We want land owners, potential investors, and others who are tempted by the money in the marijuana industry to understand that these businesses are illegal and that the risk of federal prosecution and forfeiture is real," Wagner said.

Wagner also mentioned the Buds 4 Life dispensaries raided earlier this week in Tarpey Village and Friant.

The owners, Mark and Ryan Bagdasarian, are now facing federal charges.

"The defendant in that case told agents his business was making $30,000 to $50,000 per day selling marijuana," Wagner said.

Fresno County collectives are fighting for their existence on two fronts.

A county ordinance bans dispensaries as of March 1, and now the feds are threatening to prosecute them, especially those within 1000 feet of schools, parks, and little league fields.

Fresno County's Mind, Body and Soul is one such collective, although separated from Malaga Elementary School by Golden State Blvd.

Its owners are gearing up for a battle.

"I am concerned," said co-owner Shannon Luce. "I think everybody should be concerned, but I hear the group's already working on a movement."

In fact, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Sacramento and Los Angeles Friday -- hoping their voices can convince the feds to stay out of this state's issues.

Prosecutors also say they're not going after seriously ill people or their caregivers -- just people who've turned marijuana into a commercial business.

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