Police and prosecutors remained tight-lipped Friday about a series of search warrants served at local marijuana dispensaries Thursday.
The office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley confirmed Friday it is working with the Long Beach Police Department on an investigation into illegal sales of marijuana at various medical marijuana dispensaries, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.
"Because of the ongoing status of the investigation we can't say anything else at this time," Robison said Friday.
Long Beach police Cmdr. Laura Farinella confirmed for the Press-Telegram on Thursday that the police department's Narcotics Division was working with other officers on the force and the district attorney's office to serve warrants at several locations that had generated numerous complaints from neighbors about illegal, over-the-counter sales of pot.
Police and the prosecutor's office declined Thursday and Friday to identify the locations that were served in what authorities called an "enforcement" operation.
Officials said more information may be made public in the coming week.
Chris Glew, an attorney representing a cooperative located on Fourth Street at Elm Avenue, said he has yet to see any documentation from authorities who served warrants at his clients' business and home, but he insisted the dispensary has always operated within the state's Compassionate Use laws.
Glew, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in medical marijuana cases, said authorities couldn't have gotten it more wrong when they focused on the Downtown cooperative.
"These guys are the Mother Theresa of collectives," Glew said Friday, noting that the cooperative has pooled its resources to not only provide medical marijuana for its indigent members at reduced costs or free, the group has also helped install handicap-accessible ramps and related items in the homes of a number of its more infirm and elderly members.
He and other owners of local clubs - all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity - said officers served warrants not only at the dispensaries but at the homes of the cooperatives' owners and employees.
"They must have used at least 100 cops and for what? To hassle people who are compliant with a law that police or the DA don't like," said the owner of one local medical marijuana dispensary.
Glew made similar points, noting that the district attorney and the police department "appear to be operating under the theory that everything is illegal, they seem to interpret any collective or dispensary is operating against the voter's initiative."
The initiative outlined by Prop. 215 - the compassionate use act that legalized marijuana for California patients suffering from debilitating conditions and disorders - was passed by voters in 1996.
Patients seek permission to use marijuana from doctors under both Prop. 215 and a follow-up 2003 law, which clarified the original proposition and ordered counties to issue identification cards to patients.
Arguments over how to distribute the drug, however, have simmered on national, state and local levels ever since the 1996 vote.
"All this boils down to a pissing match between the city and Cooley," Glew added, referring to the district attorney's warning last month to Los Angeles city officials as they were discussing a marijuana ordinance for dispensaries in their city.
Cooley said in November that over-the-counter sales of cannabis are not allowed by either of the laws pertaining to medical marijuana.
In previous court cases, Glew said, the district attorney's prosecutors have made it clear to him that the district attorney's position is most of the people using medical marijuana are young and don't appear sick or injured in any way.
Glew, however, strongly cautioned against people relying on how someone looks to determine if they are a patient.
"There are plenty of people suffering with MS or HIV and you wouldn't know it to look at them," he said.
As for the charge about complaints regarding local dispensaries, Glew and other dispensary supporters said Thursday was the first time anyone had heard about complaints.
"I'd like to see some kind of record of the calls or letters or whatever they received," said a manager of one of the cooperatives.
Glew countered that if authorities are really concerned about people abusing the prescription identification system they should focus on physicians wrongly issuing the ID cards rather than the cooperatives, who serve all patients.
Glew, who recently won a case for one of the co-owners of the Downtown Long Beach cooperative who was charged in Riverside, added he is confident his clients in Long Beach will be vindicated as well.
"I work with a lot of cooperatives and this place is probably one of the most heavily checked, they verify all the patient's statements and they are in compliance 100 percent," he said. "To even insinuate ( illegal over-the-counter sales were being made ) is preposterous."
December 19, 2009
Long Beach Press-Telegram