Malibu's Two Marijuana Dispensaries Opt to Close Their Doors Preemptively
• Feds Issue Letters Threatening Prosecution and Forfeiture
BY BILL KOENEKER
There appear to be two casualties in Malibu in the war against pot pharmacies being waged by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Both medical marijuana dispensaries are shutting their doors this week, according to individuals who answered their phones on Tuesday morning.
"We will be gone by Tuesday or Wednesday," said ostensible store personnel, who declined to give their names, at both facilities.
The U.S, Attorney recently announced federal enforcement actions against commercial marijuana operations with warning letters and civil lawsuits targeting storefronts in Los Angeles County, including Malibu's two medical marijuana pharmacies.
The two stores are the only facilities in Malibu. The city, by its own ordinance, allowed only two permits.
The permit required by the city to operate a pot pharmacy required a list of conditions the storefront must comply with and a hearing before the planning commission to obtain a Conditional Use Permit.
The city apparently derived a certain amount of sales taxes from the two stores' operations which will be lost, but that figure was unavailable at press time.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office of the Central District of California, which includes Los Angeles County, "Federal authorities filed two asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing three marijuana stores in Santa Fe Springs and sent warning letters to people associated with another 34 illegal marijuana operations in Los Angeles County. The warning letters and lawsuits target all known marijuana stores in the communities of Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, South El Monte, La Mirada, Diamond Bar, Artesia, Paramount, South Gate, City of Commerce, Agoura Hills and Malibu."
A subsequent press release indicated six individuals associated with an Inland Empire marijuana operation that ran three stores were arrested on federal drug trafficking charges.
Two of the three stores were shuttered, but a third remained open after federal authorities executed two separate search warrants, filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the property housing the remaining open store and filed a second asset forfeiture lawsuit.
The six defendants were also indicted by a grand jury and charged with conspiracy to manufacture and to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. The indictment also charges all six with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
These two charges each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum possible sentence of life in prison. Additionally, each defendant is named in at least one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises, a charge that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's press release.
The warning letters were mailed out recently to the property owners and operators of the 34 marijuana stores "that are either currently operating or were recently closed."
"The warning letters give the operators and landlords 14 days to come into compliance with federal law or risk potential civil or criminal actions," the press release goes on to caution.
The U.S. Attorney's office reports that a total of 12 asset forfeiture complaints have been filed. "Three of those actions have been resolved with the closure of the marijuana stores and court-approved consent decrees in which property owners agreed that they would no longer rent to people associated with illegal marijuana operations or the property would be subject to an immediate forfeiture to the government.
"Federal enforcement actions have now targeted more than 220 marijuana stores and grows in the Central District of California. The majority of these stores are now closed, are the subject of eviction proceedings by landlords or have been the subject of additional federal enforcement actions such as search warrants."