LONG BEACH, Calif. (CN) - Nine marijuana collectives claim in court that the Long Beach Police Department is using illegal, unconstitutional tactics to put them out of business.
The nine collectives and two men seek an injunction and damages for Fourth Amendment violations and "judicial deception."
Lead plaintiff Green Earth Center sued Long Beach and five of its police officers -David Strohman, Oscar Valenzuela, Aldo Decarvalho, Chris Valdez and Douglas Luther - in Federal Court.
The pot dispensaries claim Long Beach police conduct warrantless raids, search their businesses with defective warrants without affidavits, secure warrants by deceiving judges, and use the illegal raids to drive the collectives out of business.
California voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana under specified circumstances. Marijuana is prescribed for a number of medical conditions, including glaucoma, and pain relief for cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
The collectives say they were already up and running when Long Beach tried to regulate medical marijuana collectives through a zoning law called Chapter 5.87.
The city told medical marijuana providers they had to enter a lottery for a limited amount of permits to operate.
"However, there is no provision in Chapter 5.87 for a lottery system. Chapter 5.87 provides that if the applicant demonstrates compliance with all of the requirements, a permit shall be approved and issued. Chapter 5.87 was amended multiple times, ultimately allowing only twenty-four collectives to service the medical marijuana needs of over ½ million persons," the complaint states.
Because the collectives were established before the ordinance was introduced, they took the city to court. The California Court of Appeals found that the zoning law was unconstitutional and pre-empted by federal law, the collectives say in their 39-page complaint.
"Upon remand, the city elected not to remove the invalid provisions, and instead implemented a complete ban of all medical marijuana collectives," the complaint states.
The collectives say that ban too is pre-empted by California law. They cite three 2012 rulings, from California appeals courts and a Superior Court judge.
But the city is still trying to shut them down.
"The defendants have systematically engaged in warrantless searches, warrants secured by judicial deception; administrative citations to the collectives and their landlords and other oppressive tactics, in an orchestrated scheme to close the collectives by any means in violation of the collectives' statutory rights," the complaint states.
At first, the city cited employees and owners for violating zoning laws, declaring the collectives are a public nuisance. When that failed to gain traction, the city raided dispensaries without warrants, or through warrants secured, in one instance, by representing that a collective was operating for a profit, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs cite more than a dozen raids, during which armed police officers arrested volunteers and seized marijuana, money, equipment and patient records.
"Many collectives closed their doors after being raided. The collectives that elected to remain open after being raided did not file for return of the property, or challenge the lawfulness of the raid, due to fear of retaliation," says the complaint.
It adds: "City of Long Beach police officers knew well in advance of executing any warrantless searches, and warrants secured by judicial deception, that they would find marijuana at a collective, after all, a collective distributes medical marijuana in the open pursuant to state law. The police searches were not used to search for hidden marijuana, or to identify the owners of the collective (ownership was disclosed in the application for a permit under Chapter 5.87), instead, the search warrants were used to seize marijuana, money, vehicles, cash, and equipment to disrupt the lawful medical marijuana operations."
The plaintiffs say police have conducted more than 100 raids on dispensaries "yet seldom arrest anyone."
"Prosecutions for distributing medical marijuana are nonexistent," the complaint states. Long Beach uses the raids "to circumvent the lawful distribution of medical marijuana pursuant to state law."
Named as plaintiffs are the Green Earth Center Dank City Patients Group, Naturecann, Industry Green Collective, Kai Kem, Chronic Collective, Complete Alternative Medicine, Patients Republic Collective, 562 Collective, Demitri Woodward, and Chris Woodward.
They are represented by Matthew Pappas, of Lake Forest.
The Long Beach Police Department told Courthouse News it cannot comment on pending litigation.
The city said it had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
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