More Trouble For Local Pot Dispensaries
As most of you know, recently several so-called "medical marijuana dispensaries" in Costa Mesa - and the residences of their operators - were raided, the operators jailed and the "product" confiscated. That meant significant financial trouble for each of them, but it appears their trouble is just beginning.
FORFEITURE LAWSUITS FILED
The following is a press release issued by the United States Attorney's office last week that outlines the aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws as they pertain to marijuana stores state-wide, with special emphasis on our recent local activity. I've added some highlighting for emphasis. It seems to me that the nearly four dozen such establishments purported to be currently operating in our city may be re-evaluating their business model.
Federal Enforcement Actions Directed At Marijuana Stores Continue with Four New Property Forfeiture Lawsuits and Warning Letters
LOS ANGELES – As part of a continuing, coordinated effort against commercial marijuana operations in California that started last fall, federal prosecutors over the past week have filed four asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange counties and have sent warning letters to property owners and operators of illegal marijuana stores in several Southland cities.
Three asset forfeiture complaints against buildings in Costa Mesa where marijuana stores are currently ope rating were filed this morning in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Prosecutors this morning also sent letters to marijuana store operators and to the owners of properties where nearly two dozen marijuana stores currently operate in Costa Mesa.
The three forfeiture actions filed today allege that the owners knowingly allowed marijuana stores to operate. The Costa Mesa buildings named in the forfeiture lawsuits house: three marijuana stores currently operating at 440 Fair Drive, where the owner of the building has been “cited numerous times by Costa Mesa officials for allowing the operation of marijuana dispensaries,” according to the lawsuit; American Collective, a marijuana store allegedly operated by a man with a 2003 state court conviction for marijuana sales that was one of two Costa Mesa stores and related locations where federal and state agents yesterday executed search warrants that led to the discovery of two separate marijuana grows, each with more than 500 marijuana plants; and Otherside Farms, whose operator told Costa Mesa Code Enforcement personnel that he intended “to make so much money” at the location that he was going to give the city of Costa Mesa a “donation” of up to $500,000 every year that would help the city stave off layoffs.
Letters went out today to the owners and operators of currently operating or recently closed marijuana stores – nearly three dozen in Costa Mesa, and one now-shuttered store in Newport Beach. All known stores in these two South Orange County cities are now the subject of federal enforcement actions.
Last week, the United States Attorney’s Office filed another asset forfeiture lawsuit against the building that houses the Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective (AMCC) in an unincorporated part of Covina. This complaint alleges that Los Angeles County code enforcement personnel took action against the operation and, in March 2011, the County filed a lawsuit against the owners of the property where the store is located.
Warning letters were sent last week to property owners and operators associated with marijuana stores in unincorporated Walnut, La Puente, Murrieta and Lake Elsinore, where a total of 17 stores are believed to be currently operating. Those receiving letters were warned that the stores are operating in violation of federal law and that they have 15 days to take steps to discontinue the sale and distribution of marijuana at the stores.
In October, the four United States Attorneys in California announced coordinated enforcement actions targeting illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking. In the Central District of California (see http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2011/144.html), one criminal case that now involves seven defendants linked to a North Hollywood marijuana store called NoHo Caregivers is set for trial on May 22. Three civil forfeiture actions filed in October are still pending, but the stores in the properties have been closed. And dozens of letters sent to those associated with marijuana stores in 13 Southland cities have resulted in nearly allof the stores being closed, with the remainder currently being the subject of eviction proceedings.
Last week, the United States Attorney in Sacramento announced a civil forfeiture action against a marijuana store, as well as letters that were sent to the owners of properties in several counties where marijuana is being cultivated or sold (see:http://www.justice.gov/usao/cae/news/docs/2012/01-12-12MarijuanaStore.html).
The United States Attorney’s Office is working in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS - Criminal Investigation.
I've intentionally tried to keep a low profile when this subject is discussed . From my vantage point the entire issue is confusing, both to me as a non-using layman and to those in the medicinal marijuana business, too. The feds say selling marijuana is against the law. The state says it's OK if you have a prescription and purchase your "medicine" from a certified dispensary. The local authorities are stuck.
In Costa Mesa it's especially difficult to comprehend because of the mixed massages being sent. Our local police have raided and closed at least one such facility, interestingly operated by a person who is in the midst of a legal battle with the City.
THE MAYOR SUPPORTS THEM
And, we also have the curious situation of our mayor, Gary Monahan , who hosts a pro-cannabis radio program at his gin mill and openly speaks out in favor of legalizing them in our city. It's no wonder when at least one of those operators recently raided has expressed a loss of faith in humanity. I suppose one could understand his view, considering that he's been snuggled up to local politicians for a couple years and feeding their election campaigns with contributions.
AND VICE VERSA?
In fact, one dispensary located at the building mentioned in the press release above posted a notice on its door indicating that folks who attended the event at Monahan's bar could bring a receipt and receive a "free house joint", and that if you contribute $20.00 or more to Monahan's re-election campaign the dispensary will give you a $20.00 credit.
Heck, we had that "industry" very prominently represented i n the recent Costa Mesa United golf tournament - a fund raiser for youth sports. Again, mixed messa ges.
SOME FOLKS MAY NEED THE "MEDICINE", BUT...
I'm not going to get into the whole, "I need my medicine for my ailment" issue. I acknowledge that there may, in fact, be folks who receive significant relief from pain of an illness by using cannabis, but I expect them to also acknowledge that there are MANY folks who are simply using these pot stores to supply their habits.
WE NEED UNIFORM LAWS, FAIRLY ENFORCED
THIS WON'T BECOME "MARIJUANA CENTRAL"...
I don't intend for this site to become a place where this issue will beflogged into submission, but it is an important issue in our city that needs attention.