Federal authorities filed civil asset-forfeiture complaints Tuesday against the owners of three Eagle Rock properties that house medical marijuana dispensaries, and search warrants were served at three other pot shops, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal prosecutors also sent warning letters to operators of 68 marijuana shops in the Eagle Rock and downtown Los Angeles areas, as well as the single store known to be operating in Huntington Park, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which announced the moves as part of an ongoing federal crackdown on the commercial marijuana industry in California.
The warning letters gave the operators and landlords two weeks to come into compliance with federal law or risk civil or criminal actions.
“Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of commercial marijuana stores – an explosion that is being driven by the massive profits associated with marijuana distribution,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.
“As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law. Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”
The federal actions in Los Angeles were done with cooperation from the Los Angeles Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office.
“As I’ve said before, in Los Angeles some medical marijuana clinics have been taken over by illegal for-profit businesses that sell recreational marijuana to healthy young adults and attract crime,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. “These stores are a source of criminal activity because of the product they sell and large amounts of cash they have on hand. The LAPD will continue to work with our federal partners to remove these threats from our communities.”
The civil complaints allege that the owners of the properties along Colorado Boulevard knowingly allowed commercial marijuana stores to operate. The buildings named in the forfeiture lawsuits house: The Together for Change Collective, which previously was the subject of a civil abatement action filed by the City Attorney’s Office and search warrants executed by the LAPD. During an LAPD investigation against a prior store at the same location in May 2011, officers seized more than 500 marijuana plants and more than $5,000 in cash from the store, as well as $14,912 in cash and a semi-automatic rifle from the home of one of the store’s operators; House of Kush, where the store and property owner are the subjects of a civil abatement action filed by the City Attorney’s Office; and ER Collective, at the location of a prior store that was raided by the LAPD in June 2010, with officers seizing about 11.4 kilograms of marijuana, 4.5 kilograms of hashish, liquid THC and $17,000 in cash.
In addition to federal warning letters, the District Attorney’s Office sent its own letters to some property owners of Los Angeles stores providing notice that it is a violation of state criminal law to lease or make property available for a marijuana store. The Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on storefront medical-marijuana dispensaries earlier this year, but the ordinance was put on hold when advocates submitted enough petition signatures to force a public vote on the issue.
The Drug Enforcement Administration executed federal search warrants on Wednesday at the following locations: Happy Ending Collective, 818 N. Spring St., which is believed to be the largest marijuana store in the downtown Los Angeles area; Green Light Pharmacy, 522 S. Lorena St., which was the target of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation in early 2012 that federal officials say determined the operation was in violation of federal and state laws; and Fountain of Wellbeing, 3835 Fountain Ave., which has been the subject of repeated calls for police service since 2011, authorities said.
Starting in October 2011, prosecutors began filing asset-forfeiture lawsuits and sending letters to more than 375 marijuana operations across the seven-county Central District of California.
The majority of those businesses that are now closed, are the subject of eviction proceedings by landlords or have been the subject of additional federal enforcement actions, prosecutors said.