More than two dozen people operating marijuana dispensaries were arrested in countywide raids that also shut down 14 storefronts, authorities announced Thursday morning.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the search warrants served at dispensaries and some homes Wednesday “has nothing to do with legitimate medical marijuana patients or their caregivers.”
She said the 14 storefronts targeted were “so-called medical marijuana businesses that appear to be run by drug dealers.”
Officials declined to give details about the backgrounds of those arrested, but San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said some of those in custody have prior drug arrests.
Authorities said they are still tallying the amount of marijuana and money seized in the operation. At least $70,000 of cash was seized and six guns were taken into custody, officials said.
Lansdowne said Wednesday’s search and seizures culminated a five-month investigation that started with residents’ complaints of the dispensaries.
Neighbors cited noise, vandalism and other crimes associated with storefronts, Dumanis said.
“There are now 60 storefronts operating and doing this under the guise of helping people who are sick,” she said.
In an area of Pacific Beach, for instance, Dumanis said five such dispensaries are within blocks of each other. “It is easier to find marijuana there than to find a Starbucks for a latte,” she said.
Lansdowne said the businesses targeted were chosen based on the number of residents’ complaints and the amount of activity happening at the businesses.
According to the state’s medical marijuana laws and the Attorney General’s guidelines, it is illegal to profit from the sale or distribution of marijuana.
The user has to have a recommendation for medical marijuana by a physician. That person, and or his or her caregiver, need to be verified members of a collective or cooperative in order to be compliant with medical marijuana laws.
For example, authorities said dispensaries that merely require patients to complete a form that designates the business owner as the patient’s primary caregiver, then offer marijuana in exchange for “donations” are likely illegal and not compliant with medical marijuana laws.
Lansdowne said some of the businesses in the city advertise they accept donations but they won’t give out the product without receiving a “donation.”
Dumanis said patients or their designated caregivers who are lawfully recommended by a physician can cultivate plants on their property for their use.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Walter said 23 people were arrested in San Diego and eight people were arrested in North County. Two men arrested face federal charges.
Walter said he was not sure if the men prosecuted in federal court are in addition to the 31 arrested.
The investigation is still ongoing, he said.
Karen Hewitt, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, said one of the men faces three counts of federal charges including two counts for distributing a controlled substance and one count of manufacturing marijuana plants. He was arrested at the Green Kross Collective on Mission Boulevard near Lido Court in San Diego.
The second man facing federal prosecution was arrested at the Movement in Action store on South Santa Fe Avenue near Alta Calle in Vista.
He faces three counts of distributing a controlled substance, Hewitt said. If convicted of all counts, Hewitt said he faces up to five years in prison.
Hewitt declined to say why the two men face federal charges but noted that it did not have to do with the amount of marijuana or cash seized.
“It has more to do with the overall investigation and other federal investigations that I can’t get into,” she said.
The following is a list of marijuana dispensaries closed in Wednesday’s countywide raid:
Answerdam Rx, 6645 Convoy Ct., San Diego
Beneficial Care Collective, 740 Broadway, San Diego
Green Kross Collective, 3415 Mission Blvd., San Diego
Green Tree Solutions, 8055 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego
The Healing Dragon, 2506 South Santa Fe Ave. # B-8, Vista
Hillcrest Compassion Care, 1295 University Ave., San Diego
Medicinal Solutions Patient Collective, 861 Hornblend St., San Diego
Movement in Action, 1050 South Santa Fe Ave., Vista
Nature’s Rx, 3520 Ashford St., Ste. E, San Diego
Pacific Beach Collective, 929 Turquoise St., San Diego
San Diego Discount Caregivers, 3152 University Ave., San Diego
San Diego Dispensary Services, 1232 Los Vallecitos, San Marcos
Top Quality Collective, 7933 Balboa Ave., San Diego
Total Herbal Care, 4667 1/2 Cass St., San Diego
Source: San Diego District Attorney’s Office
– Article from The San Diego Union-Tribune.