Nine medical marijuana collectives are claiming in court that the Long Beach Police Department is using illegal, unconstitutional tactics to put them out of business.
The nine collectives and two men are seeking an injunction and damages for Fourth Amendment violations and “judicial deception,” reports Matt Reynolds at Courthouse News Service.
Lead plaintiff Green Earth Center sued the city of Long Beach and five of its police officers — David Strohman, Oscar Valanzuela, Aldo Decarvalho, Chris Valdez and Douglas Luther — in federal court.
The dispensaries say Long Beach police habitually conduct warrantless raids, search their businesses with defective search warrants without affidavits, get warrants by lying to judges, and use illegal raids to drive medical marijuana collectives out of business.
The police have conducted more than 100 such raids, according to the plaintiffs, “yet seldom arrest anyone.”
“Prosecutions for distributing medical marijuana are nonexistent,” the complaint states. Long Beach uses the raids “to circumvent the lawful distribution of medical marijuana pursuant to state law.”
The collectives say they were already operating when Long Beach tried to regulate dispensaries through a zoning law called Chapter 5.87. The city told medical marijuana suppliers they had to enter a lottery for a limited number of permits to operate.
“However, there is no provision in Chapter 5.87 for a lottery system,” the 39-page complaint states. “Chapter 5.87 provides that if the applicant demonstrates compliance with all of the requirements, a permit shall be approved and issued. Chapter 5.87 was amended multiple times, ultimately allowing only 24 collectives to service the medical marijuana needs of over 1/2 million persons.”
Because the dispensaries were established before the ordinance was introduced, they took the city to court. The California Court of Appeals found that the zoning law was unconstitutional and preempted by federal law.
“Upon remand, the city elected not to remove the invalid provisions, and instead implemented a complete ban of all medical marijuana collectives,” the complaint states.
The collectives maintain that ban, too, is preempted by California law. They cite three 2012 rulings, from California appeals courts and a Superior Court judge. But the city is still trying to shut them down.
“The defendants have systematically engaged in warrantless searches, warrants secured by judicial deception; administrative citations to the collectives and their landlords and other oppressive tactics, in an orchestrated scheme to close the collectives by any means in violation of the collectives’ statutory rights,” the complaint states.
After the city’s initial tactics — citing employees and owners for violating zoning laws and declaring the dispensaries a public nuisance — failed to gain traction, the city started raiding dispensaries without warrants, or through warrants secured, in at least one instance, by representing that a collective was operating for a profit, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs cite more than a dozen raids during which armed police officers arrested dispensary volunteers and seized marijuana, cash, equipment and patient records.
“Many collectives closed their doors after being raided,” the complaint states. “The collectives that elected to remain open after being raided did not file for return of the property, or challenge the lawfulness of the raid, due to fear of retaliation.”
“City of Long Beach police officers knew well in advance of executing any warrantless searches, and warrants secured by judicial deception, that they would find marijuana at a collective, after all, a collective distributes medical marijuana in the open pursuant to state law,” the complaint states. “The police searches were not used to search for hidden marijuana, or to identify the owners of the collective (ownership was disclosed in the application for a permit under Chapter 5.87), instead, the search warrants were used to seize marijuana, money, vehicles, cash, and equipment to disrupt the lawful medical marijuana operations.”
Named as plaintiffs are the Green Earth Center Dank City Patients Group; Naturecann; Industry Green Collective; Kai Kem; Chronic Collective; Complete Alternative Medicine; Patients Republic Collective; 562 Collective; Demitri Woodward; and Chris Woodward. They are represented by Matthew Pappas, an attorney based in Lake Forest.