The owners of a California medical marijuana dispensary have sued local police over a raid early this year that led to several arrests.
The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court in August, says police in Costa Mesa failed to produce a search warrant when they raided the Costa Mesa Collective. Without a warrant, the suit says, officers had no legal authority to enter the store. City officials have also refused to detail the property they seized during the raid, said Matthew Pappas, lawyer for the collective.
“It’s just been quite frustrating,” Pappas said.
California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and dispensaries have been commonplace since the early 2000s, but many local governments ban them, as does Costa Mesa. Tony Dodera, a spokesman for the city, said a judge had indeed signed a search warrant that was presented during the bust.
“I’ve seen it,” Dodero said. “I have a copy of it.”
The raid occurred in January, when police broke into the shop, arrested five employees, and seized the contents of two large safes, including $6,000 in cash and cannabis products. No charges were filed, but the city has nonetheless refused to return any of the property that was seized, according to the lawsuit, which asks the court to order police to either return the property or compensate the dispensary owners for it.
The raid drew heavy local media coverage after employees produced a hidden video recording that captured officers verbally abusing a disabled woman, stealing and eating marijuana edibles, and vandalizing a closed-circuit camera system. Workers at the collective were tipped off to the bust and installed a second, hidden system before officers arrived.
Pappas said he has yet to see a copy of the alleged warrant and doesn’t believe it exists. And even if it does, he said, police violated the owners’ constitutional rights. Unless officers had an actual criminal search warrant, they shouldn’t have entered the store by force, Pappas said.
Police could have used a so-called inspection warrant to search the property for code violations, but the lawsuit says they would be required to alert the dispensary at least 24 hours in advance and couldn’t force the doors open. The hidden video shows the officers bursting into the dispensary and ordering everyone, including customers, to the floor at gunpoint.
“What they would normally do with any other business,” Pappas said, “they go in and they don’t have guns drawn.”
This isn’t the first time the dispensary’s owners have complained publicly about the raid. After the shop was shuttered and employees arrested, Pappas claimed it was actually a functioning Native American church that used cannabis in legal religious rituals.
That unusual contention didn’t work. Pappas said he would no longer make the argument as he pursues the new lawsuit. The owners of the dispensary planned to turn it into a church but changed their minds, he said. The Oklevueha Native American Church briefly had a congregation, Pappas said, but he no longer represents them.
Comment below: Do you think medical marijuana dispensaries will have an easier time in California after voters legalize the drug completely in November?