The city of Santa Ana in Orange County passed an ordinance in November setting up a lottery for awarding licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, and three months later beefed up law enforcement for a crackdown on old, illegal ones.
In May, a hidden camera captured a raid by about 10 Santa Ana police officers on Sky High Holistic and the video went viral. Cops bust in the door with a battering ram and proceed through the holding lounge with guns drawn. Then they bust in the door to the room where customers and employees seem somnolently unaware of the ruckus next door. It could have been the music.
But those in the room quickly do become aware as the police loudly force them to the ground at gunpoint and smash what they thought were the only cameras and DVR recording them. They play darts.
At one point in the video, an officer is heard expressing a desire to kick passive Sky High collective member Marla James, an amputee in a wheelchair, “in her fucking nub.” The cops may have mellowed a bit by the end of the raid, judging by the number of marijuana edibles they consumed.
Earlier this month, the dispensary and three individuals sued the city (pdf), Mayor Miguel Pulido and Santa Ana Preservation Director Yvette Aguilar, alleging a conspiracy to hijack last November’s election to monopolize the marijuana business for personal financial gain. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court Central District of California.
The Leaf summarized the suit thusly: “The mayor of Santa Ana conspired with a corrupt local judge, a handful of local dispensaries, and about a dozen members of the Santa Ana police department to hijack the 2014 ballot and eliminate their competition.”
California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and authorized nonprofit cooperatives as dispensaries in 2004. But federal law continues to criminalize possession and sale of pot. In the absence of a cohesive state policy, localities have been left to their own devices.
This Santa Ana tale begins in April 2013, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office took action against 63 pot shops in Santa Ana. The authorities executed search warrants at two locations, filed asset forfeiture complaints against three properties where seven stores were located and sent threatening letters to 56 other parties.
The letters gave operators and landlords two weeks to clean up their acts or risk civil or criminal actions. The federal actions were done in coordination with local Santa Ana authorities.
Later that year, a group of medical marijuana enthusiasts got enough signatures to put an initiative regulating dispensaries on the ballot as Measure CC. It explicitly included existing pot shops. The Santa Ana City Council put a competing measure on the ballot in 2014, but with an earlier Measure BB designation, that set up a lottery for selecting dispensaries.
Both measures received more than 50% of the vote but Measure BB received more votes, so it became the law. The lawsuit alleges that during the campaign, an unidentified Measure BB employee solicited $25,000 campaign contributions in exchange for lottery permits. One of those permits went to a dispensary in which the mayor had a financial interest.
Sky High Holistic did not contribute any money and did not get a lottery permit.
The lawsuit claims the mayor worked to get Measure BB through the council and on the ballot because of “pecuniary benefit.” Pulido told NBC Southern California, “There is no money, there is no influencing any process in any manner. I think (Pappas) is trying to protect his client and trying to just keep operating illegally. Sometimes the best defense is offense.” He called the allegations “categorically and unequivocally . . . false.”