4 Face Charges After Raid Of Green Cross Dispensary

Ian Hanigan, Daily Breeze

Federal agents raided the Torrance shop and jailed four who allegedly tried to sell marijuana to agents from a countywide task force.

Federal agents seized about 70 pounds of marijuana along with nearly 100 pot plants, a shotgun and a small amount of cash during last week's raid of a medical marijuana dispensary in Torrance, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman said Monday.

Though the DEA claimed no arrests, police working for a county task force jailed four people who arrived later that day to sell cannabis to the co-op.

Authorities began their search about 2:15 p.m.  Thursday in the 22900 block of Hawthorne Boulevard, where Green Cross of Torrance had been in business since April.

Witnesses said police and federal DEA agents blocked the entrances of Green Cross' parking lot before a half-dozen or so officers approached the business with their guns drawn.

Marijuana-laced food was among the items seized, DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen said.

Following the raid, four people were taken into custody after they allegedly attempted to sell pot to undercover detectives working for LA IMPACT, a countywide task force with an emphasis on drug trafficking.

"Within a five-hour time span, four people came in and essentially offered to sell marijuana to the facility," Torrance police Lt.  Rod Irvine said.

That led to the additional confiscation of more than 20 pounds of pot and more than 60 vials of hash oil, a concentrated form of cannabis.

Though state law permits the regulated growth of marijuana for medical use, the would-be vendors were not authorized to cultivate or sell the drug, Irvine said.

Investigators searched the dispensary because they suspect Green Cross director Rafael Chavez and his brother, Edward Chavez, have been illegally selling pot to customers with no medical conditions, according to a DEA affidavit.

Chavez could not be reached for comment Monday, but he has repeatedly defended his establishment, saying it offers "compassion" to patients suffering from chronic pain and disease.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to patients afflicted with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, glaucoma and other illnesses.

But the state initiative does not supersede federal law, which maintains it is illegal to grow, possess or use the drug.

"For the most part, I don't know what's going on, but I do think it's not good for all these patients that are relying on this," Chavez told the Daily Breeze after the raid last week.  "It's legal in California, and I'm being harassed by federal agents."

Green Cross opened its doors in Torrance on April 20, prompting some concern among local officials.  On Aug.  1, the City Council responded by passing an ordinance denying business licenses to marijuana dispensaries and other establishments considered out of step with federal law.

With its current license set to expire in December, the dispensary remained open.

In the weeks prior to Thursday's search, investigators surveyed the dispensary at least twice.  According to the affidavit, a team of agents and police officers watched 25 customers stop by the co-op during a two-hour span on Oct.  10.

Police pulled over the customers as they drove away, and those who were questioned admitted purchasing various types and quantities of the drug, which ranged from $55 to $70 for an eighth of an ounce.

Pullen, the DEA spokeswoman, said Monday that no charges had been filed as a result of the evidence collected during last week's search.  But, she added, the investigation is ongoing.

"Obviously," she said, "we build cases in an attempt to dismantle and disrupt organizations."