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California medical pot crackdown hits upscale Santa Barbara

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A crackdown on California's medical marijuana supply chain by federal authorities targeting the state's illegal drug trade arrived this week in the affluent, coastal county of Santa Barbara.

The latest actions include three asset forfeiture lawsuits filed against properties housing marijuana operations and warning letters sent to people associated with 10 cannabis dispensaries deemed "illegal marijuana stores," federal officials said.

"All known marijuana stores in Santa Barbara County are now the subject of federal enforcement actions," a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said.

The moves on Santa Barbara storefronts and cultivation facilities mark the fourth such sweep in recent months in the seven-county California region that ranks as the largest federal law-enforcement district in the nation, U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

He said authorities have gone after 150 pot stores in the district since October, when federal prosecutors announced a statewide crackdown on what they called a massive network of illegal cannabis suppliers established under the guise of California's medical marijuana law. Most of those stores have been closed, Mrozek said.

Similar crackdowns have been launched in other states as well, notably Colorado, Montana and Washington, in an escalation of friction between the federal government and states that have decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes.

California was the first to do so - in 1996 - and 15 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar statutes, though marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law.

Mrozek said federal authorities also conducted raids on a dispensary, on an indoor pot farm and on the homes of people identified as operators of those two facilities.

"No one's been arrested, nor do I anticipate anyone being arrested," Mrozek said, adding that the actions taken on Tuesday and Wednesday amounted to non-criminal enforcement.

One dispensary was hit with an asset forfeiture notice for operating as a not-for-profit business even though it lacks non-profit status for tax purposes, officials said. A warehouse run as an indoor cultivation center was singled out for using substandard and unpermitted electrical equipment.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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