District Attorney: There are no legal medical marijuana dispensaries right now
“There has been reporting that there are eight legitimate medical-marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County,” San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said this morning at a press conference. “There is no such thing right now.”
Dumanis had taken the podium at a little after 10 a.m. to announce the results of a series of raids on medical-marijuana dispensaries throughout San Diego County conducted by city, state and federal law-enforcement officials. She said officers are still tallying the evidence collected from the search warrants they executed, but they had secured $70,000 in cash. One dispensary they raided had done $700,000 in business in six months, she said, indicating how robust their business had become.
In total, 14 dispensaries were raided and closed, and 31 people were arrested—23 in the city of San Diego and eight in cities in North County. Dumanis said no end-users were arrested as part of the operation.
She said the operation was undertaken in response to neighborhood complaints about the explosion of medical marijuana storefront operations.
“There’s a small [Pacific Beach] neighborhood where there are five storefronts within a few blocks,” she said. “It’s easier to find a marijuana dispensary than Starbucks.”
Dumanis took the legal position that the dispensaries were not acting within the guidelines (PDF) for collectives laid out in August 2008 by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. She said undercover officers, carrying recommendations from doctors, were able to walk in off the street and buy drugs immediately. This constitutes a violation of the law, Dumanis said.
“The marijuana is only for closed-circuit membership,” she said.
She also said the guidelines say that marijuana can be grown by patients or primary caregivers.
“Someone who assumes responsibility of housing and health care of patients,” Dumanis said. “It’s highly unlikely this applies to store fronts.”
San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said that there are somewhere between 40 and 50 dispensaries operating within San Diego city limits right now. He said the 10 dispensaries in the city were targeted because they had become magnets for complaints by neighbors. Follow-up investigations by officers also showed they were doing far more business than made sense for a medical-marijuana collective.
Lansdowne explained how police knew these were for-profit businesses, rather than nonprofit collectives.
“If you buy drugs from a drug dealer and raise the price and profit, that’s a crime,” he said. “These were retail operators that gave discounts, and T-shirts and hats.”
He also said that at least some of the operators had prior criminal convictions for drug dealing or possession.
The U.S. Attorney for Southern California, Karen Downy, said she would prosecute two of the arrestees on federal narcotics charges of possession and distribution. She said these cases weren’t particularly different from the other arrests, but that it was routine for some of the arrests in this situation to be prosecuted by her office. She also said participation by Drug Enforcement Administration agents did not contradict U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s pledge not to raid dispensaries.
“Our involvement was totally consistent with enforcing federal narcotics laws,” she said.
Dumanis followed up immediately: “I don’t think he said they could illegally sell narcotics.”
Dumanis said limited manpower was the only reason they did not conduct more raids and make more arrests. But she left the door open for additional searches on dispensaries by noting that the investigation is ongoing.
Photos taken by law enforcement at the raids provided by the San Diego County District Attorney.