California Marijuana Lawyers: Don’t Rely on Assumptions

A property owner in Anaheim is fighting the federal government’s vigorous attempt to seize his $1.5 million, two-story commercial building.
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Why would the government do this?

Because twice, the property owner rented two of his 12 available office spaces to medical marijuana dispensaries. He made the mistake of assuming such operations were totally legal in California.

And of course, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know that under California law, he did absolutely nothing wrong. Federal law, however, is a different story. This case serves as a cautionary tale for why any involvement in the medical marijuana industry in California requires extensive legal counseling prior to investment or contract signing.

It’s not that such action is inadvisable, but by consulting with an experienced marijuana attorney, you can take steps to ensure that your risk is mitigated.

In this case, an undercover officer working with the Anaheim Police Department used a doctor’s recommendation card to buy $37 worth of medicinal marijuana from one of the dispensary tenants. That’s was enough for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to launch a raid of the property, seize all contents therein, file felony criminal charges against the dispensary operators and subsequently initiate civil forfeiture proceedings against the property owner to seize his $1.5 million building.

It’s not tough to see why the property owner has been left scratching his head. While Anaheim does have an ordinance that bars marijuana dispensaries within city limits, the city is also host to the “largest annual” marijuana festival prominently hosted at the city-owned convention center. The property owner noted he had seen numerous banners, fliers and other advertisements heavily promoting the event over the years. Public sale, purchase, possession and even consumption are common at this event, and with little if any law enforcement intervention.

Those attending the festival are warned that they would be unable to sample or purchase any goods without the recommendation of a physician. However, doctors are always on site at the event.

Yet, no action has been taken by the federal government to seize the city’s convention center. We’re not suggesting that it should, but it highlights why the property owner’s confusion would be justifiable.

As he was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, “I had no idea I was doing anything wrong.” He added that he evicted the marijuana dispensary as soon as he received notice of the civil forfeiture action. That hasn’t been enough to get the government to back off.

While the city insists two notices regarding problems with the dispensary were sent to his home in Irvine. However, the property owner denies he ever received anything, and the U.S. attorney’s office concedes it gave no notice before swooping in to acquire his property, an investment property he purchased in 2003 to help fund his retirement.

It’s worth noting that state law bars property forfeiture except in very specific cases where the owner has been convicted of a crime. That’s the spirit of the federal law as well, though federal drug officials and prosecutors have been applying it far too liberally.

Most of the 30 civil forfeiture cases filed in the state have not resulted in landlords losing their property, but we do know that in 11 of those cases, property owners have had to pay more than $530,000 to settle with the government.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
In marijuana policy, the confusing smoke signals continue to burn, Aug. 24, 2013, Opinion, By Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
Study: Medical Marijuana Approval Associated With Lower DUI Fatalities, Aug. 22, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog