LOS ANGELES — Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration raided two legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles on Thursday that, according to multiple staff members, were fully compliant with state laws.
The Department of Justice confirmed to The Huffington Post after the raid that it was executing a search warrant on The Farmacy dispensary in Los Angeles, but said the warrant was under seal and it could not comment further.
Beginning around 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning, several DEA agents raided two dispensary locations of LA-based The Farmacy dispensary, one in West Hollywood and the other in Westwood, taking money, cannabis and computers in the process. Staff members at the West Hollywood location said there were no arrests made at either shop. It remains unclear how much money and cannabis was seized during the operation.
“We are completely in the dark as to why this happened,” said Calvin, the manager of the West Hollywood shop, who requested only his first name be used from fear of further police action. “We have been around for close to 10 years in Los Angeles and are completely 100 percent state-compliant and we pay our taxes.”
The Farmacy’s Venice Beach location was not involved in the federal action on Thursday, but Calvin said he thought it was simply because the shop had moved locations recently and the DEA couldn’t find it. The DEA would not comment on the Venice Beach location and why it wasn’t included in Thursday’s action.
While 23 states, including California, have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana, the plant remains illegal at the federal level and as such, even state-compliant shops are at risk of being raided by federal authorities.
At the West Hollywood location, Jeff and Heather, staff members for the dispensary who requested only their first names be used, told HuffPost they were handcuffed and detained inside the shop for more than an hour during the day, but later let go. According to shop staff, two patients inside the shop during the raid were detained and then also set free later in the day.
Jeff and Heather described a chaotic start to the raid. A man who they presumed to be an undercover agent and who, staff said, claimed to be a patient, opened the front door on Santa Monica Boulevard and shouted into the store about obtaining some medical marijuana. Moments later, DEA agents burst into the shop, some of whom emerged from an unmarked gray pick-up truck parked right in front of the shop.
“If he actually was a patient he was legally a patient,” Calvin said about the alleged undercover agent. “If he made it to the sale, passed the reception, it means he was legal, he had all the documentation. We are very, very select.”
When pressed by HuffPost as to why these shops were raided, an agent at the scene of the raid, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the charges, said it was part of an ongoing investigation and “less about running the shop and more about running of the business. If this was simply about somebody selling marijuana in West Hollywood, the DEA wouldn’t be here.”
He added: “We’re not here to be the bad guys. I think for those people who champion the cause of marijuana, particularly medical marijuana, I think it’s important that they hold shops to a high standard. What’s going to happen is shops like this are going to ruin it for everyone.”
Bill Kroger, an attorney representing The Farmacy’s owners, denied any wrongdoing by his clients. “I represent a lot of medical marijuana clubs in LA and The Farmacy is the most compliant club in Los Angeles — they pay their taxes, go to all the city council meetings, they even helped put together the ordinance for the city of West Hollywood,” Kroger told HuffPost.
When asked if the shop would reopen anytime soon, the agent said that all of the shops’ product was seized, but acknowledged that it could bring new product and open again. “But I think with the fact that we hit the two locations, they have figured out that we have figured out what they were doing,” the agent said. “They are probably not going to reopen anytime soon.”
But Calvin, the shop manager, said while the shops would not be open today, he hoped they would be back in operation on Monday.
According to the Los Angeles Times, this isn’t the first time the West Hollywood branch of The Farmacy was raided. In 2007 it was raided as part of a large DEA crackdown on nearly a dozen LA dispensaries, but the shop has maintained a reputation for being one of the “best-run in Los Angeles.”
Since the 2007 raid, the West Hollywood location moved to a compliant location, away from a school and not near any parks, Kroger said.
Several patients who gathered outside the shop during the raid were devastated by the scene, telling HuffPost that The Farmacy was an “honest business” that treated patients with respect and kindness.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said last week that if California medical marijuana shops want to avoid federal action taken against them, the state needs get its “regulatory act together.” But the DEA agent at the scene of the West Hollywood raid denied that Cole’s statements had anything to do with Thursday’s intervention.
The DOJ and DEA have not released any further information about the reasons for their investigation, but in 2013 laid out clear guidelines for for state-legal marijuana businesses, outlining the items the agencies will continue to prosecute to prevent:
- The distribution of marijuana to minors;
- Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- The diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- Drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- Growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
- Marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Ryan Reilly contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.