SANTA ANA (CNS) - Police today raided two marijuana dispensaries that officials say are illegally operating in Santa ana, while an attorney representing the businesses say it's retaliation for a lawsuit brought against the city.
Santa Ana investigators did an “undercover buy'' at the dispensaries and used that as the basis for search warrants served at the Sky High dispensary at 419 W. 17th St. and at Elevated Dreams at 413 W. 17th St., according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
A raid on Sky High in May 2015 sparked headlines, with officers accused of vandalizing surveillance cameras and ridiculing a disabled woman who uses a wheelchair due to an amputated left leg. Three officers charged with misdemeanors stemming from that raid are next due in court in March for a pretrial hearing.
The dispensaries are at opposite ends of a shopping plaza, and the owner of the property -- who has been warned before about the illegal marijuana businesses -- will be prosecuted by the city attorney, Bertagna said.
Police were “confiscating'' everything inside the dispensaries -- from cash to the marijuana, according to Bertagna, who could not immediately say how much was seized.
“This was the fourth time we've served a search warrant at Sky High and at Elevated Dreams,'' Bertagna said.
The basis for the crackdown is that “they're operating without any business license, period,'' Bertagna said.
The city has granted licenses to 20 dispensaries under a 2014 ballot initiative, and 15 of the winners from the city's lottery that awarded licenses have found locations approved by the city, Bertagna said.
That's another issue city officials have with Sky High and Elevated Dreams -- they are too close to local schools in the Floral Park, Morrison Park and West Floral neighborhoods, Bertagna said.
“Let's say these two won the lottery ticket -- they couldn't have it here anyway because the city does not allow them to be in close proximity to schools,'' Bertagna said. “This mall is in close proximity to two schools and a daycare center.''
Attorney Jennifer McGrath, who represents Sky High and Elevated Dreams, said her clients filed suit two weeks ago against the city, claiming $650,000 in property was wrongly seized during three raids.
“We feel strongly they're being targeted, specifically because we filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Ana and the police department Jan. 10 regarding three warrants,'' McGrath said. “The timing is too coincidental. We filed the lawsuit and within two weeks they're here and both locations are boarded up.''
McGrath acknowledged the dispensaries do not have permits, but her clients allege in the lawsuit that the lottery the city held was rigged.
“An unfair opportunity was given to certain people and establishments in the community,'' McGrath said. “Also, allegedly there was an exchange of money involved.''
Since the lottery, some dispensary operators are blowing the whistle on competitors to eliminate competition, McGrath said. The dispensaries used to be united, when they were all banned, she said.
Statewide, voters approved a referendum that decriminalizes recreational pot usage, but it won't take effect until next year, Bertagna noted.
“Obviously, plans have to be developed and the City Council will have to address the future issues,'' Bertagna said. “As it stands now, there are 20 spots and 15 have completed the process and picked out locations meeting the city requirements.''
Since voters approved the Measure BB ballot initiative in November 2014, the city has served more than 30 search warrants and closed about 100 illegal dispensaries, seizing about 12,000 marijuana plants in the process, Bertagna said.