Medical marijuana stores in Los Angeles are feeling the heat this week after federal authorities took legal action against 71 dispensaries operating as commercial businesses.
Officials filed three lawsuits in federal court on Tuesday, issued three search warrants and sent out dozens of warning letters.
This week’s move comes nearly a year after federal authorities began targeting the state’s pot shops, while the city’s own ban on the dispensaries is being challenged.
In Boyle Heights, a search warrant was executed at The Green Light Pharmacy at 522 South Lorena Street. The location was the target of a LA County Sheriff’s investigation earlier this year, and was found to be in violation of federal and state laws.
As part of the crackdown, The U.S. Attorney’s office sent letters to 68 marijuana stores operating in Los Angeles. The warning gives owners and operators two weeks to come into compliance with federal law, or risk potential criminal action.
Councilmember Jose Huizar applauded the actions. “I support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the state needs to create a better way of providing access for seriously ill patients while removing the scores of profiteers and recreational users who currently dominate the market,” said Huizar.
The federal actions in Los Angeles were part of a cooperative effort between the Los Angeles Police Department, The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says many of the medicinal marijuana clinics have been taken over by illegal for profit businesses. “These stores are a source of criminal activity because of the product they sell and large amounts of cash they have on hand,” said Beck in a press release.
A ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, passed by the City Council this summer, was supposed to take affect earlier this month. The ban was temporarily suspended after activists and dispensary operators started a campaign to repeal the measure, collecting more than 50,000 signatures.
Under the ban, the more than 750 dispensaries registered with the city would be ordered to shut down, or face legal action. Medical patients and caregivers will be able to grow and share marijuana in small groups of three people or less.
Father John Moretta of Resurrection Church is a big supporter of the ban on dispensaries. Moretta says he has seen youth and members of his parish affected firsthand by the marijuana shops. “The majority of those people who are using it are recreational users. It’s not for the compassionate sick, it’s not for the people agonizing in pain,” Moretta said.
Activists say the ban went too far, and that most patients don’t have the skill or ability to grow their own marijuana.
Some community members don’t believe closing the dispensaries will have a positive affect. “If they keep them open or close them, people are going to get marijuana anyway,” said 57-year-old resident Jose Carrillo.
The City Council must now decide whether to call a special election, repeal the measure, or put the decision to ban the pot shops before voters in the March election.