Costa Mesa sought feds' help before pot raids
February 07, 2012
Joseph Serna, Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa
Costa Mesa City Attorney Tom Duarte asked federal authorities months ahead of a January raid to help shutter the marijuana dispensaries operating illegally in the city, according to a letter he wrote to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
"In light of your office's recent announcement relating to increased enforcement against illegal marijuana cultivation and distribution, we therefore seek your office's assistance," Duarte wrote to U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. on Oct. 26. "We believe that by working together with the U.S. Department of Justice, we can eradicate these illegal businesses from our city."
In the letter, Duarte cited the high legal costs of challenging the clinics.
The city has spent $457,612 on court fees, officials said.
"So far, the city has expended significant resources on these lawsuits," Duarte's October letter read. "We intend to move forward against illegal facilities throughout the city with increasingly aggressive enforcement. In light of the obvious profits that sustain these businesses, we anticipate a vigorous defense."
In mid-January, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Costa Mesa police searched two dispensary owners' homes and their shops. Federal prosecutors sent letters to about three dozen other Costa Mesa dispensaries with orders to close up shop or face similar consequences.
Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's Los Angeles office, said the city's letter and the raids were not directly connected.
Costa Mesa was already a target, he said, because of the number of storefronts here.
Just days before the feds came knocking, Mayor Gary Monahan went on KOCI radio's "Cannabis Community" show and declared that he wanted to legalize and regulate the city's clinics.
KOCI's station chief shut down "Cannabis Community" minutes before it was to air Sunday.
Station officials said they thought the show ended a week earlier when the show's host, Robert Martinez, was forced to close his dispensary, too.
Station officials said they felt pressure to silence the marijuana-advocacy broadcasts in light of the federal crackdown.
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, local dispensary owners and patients chastised the city's approach to medicinal marijuana.
"We've been trying to work with the council and even offered to help them with ordinances," said Marla James, president of the Orange County chapter of Americans for Safe Access. "They don't want anything to do with it."
"Sometimes you just have to stand there and stamp your feet on the ground and say I believe in something," said Joan Schumann-Levine, a 63-year-old Costa Mesa resident and medicinal marijuana user. "It's a revenue opportunity. Get a clue, guys!"
Costa Mesa is embroiled in litigation with five dispensaries, including one involving James at the federal appeals court level.