Last week, the Santa Barbara Police Dept. aided federal authorities in the investigation of three Santa Barbara medical marijuana facilities believed to be operating outside state and national laws.

Officials targeted Pacific Coast Collective, Miramar Collective in Summerland and an indoor marijuana farm on East Haley Street in Santa Barbara, using asset-forfeiture laws and warning letters to enter the businesses and confiscate evidence.

SBPD Community & Media Relations Officer Sergeant Riley Harwood said the recent crackdown on California’s marijuana dispensaries is part of a nationwide effort to control marijuana operations.

“The letters and the search warrant — those were all things done by the federal government, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” Harwood said. “With regard to stuff that happened last week, we basically had the lead agencies enforcing federal laws. Of course, in the local component, the police department aspect, a lot of the background information that they decided to get these search warrants with was information derived from our local investigations.”

While a California law allows dispensaries and collectives to operate for strictly medical purposes, the businesses in question violate a Santa Barbara County Ordinance prohibiting dispensaries, as well as federal laws restricting marijuana sale. However, the City of Santa Barbara has made an exception for four storefront dispensaries to remain in business as long as they operate within state laws.

But Harwood said the federal ban overrules any exceptions made by state or city law.

“Marijuana is illegal; personal use of marijuana is not federally legal anywhere — in this case, California included,” Harwood said. “These dispensaries operate in violation of federal law and have been operating so this entire time. There were these state laws that basically gave them exceptions to the federal laws regarding marijuana.”

According to Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, all of the investigated collectives have been operating illegally for profit instead of in the permitted non-profit model allowed by California law.

“What we found during our investigation and, quite frankly, what every level of law enforcement has found across the sate of California over the years, is that these operations are not only in violation of federal law; we have found that, without fail, they are in violation of California law,” Mrozek said. “These operations are not operating as non-profit collectives, but rather as for-profit enterprises.

“It’s pretty clear if you look at any of the trade publications that are out there — there really is a gold rush mentality that took over California a few years ago, with people thinking that opening a marijuana store is a good place to make money. Also, these places are not functioning as a primary caregiver for patients.”

According to Harwood, the adoption of Proposition 215 and S.B. 420 by the state created a conflict with federal law that was never reconciled, leaving many citizens confused about the discrepancy.

“One of the very powerful tools that the federal government is employing is asset-forfeiture lawsuits. When you have the owners and landlords know that their property is being utilized for criminal purposes, and that the money they are receiving for rent is from these criminal enterprises, the government can seize that — both the money and the business accounts,” Harwood said. “We did send warning letters to many of these landlords, threatening that if this activity did not cease on their property we would move forward with asset-forfeiture lawsuits.

“As far as where some of this marijuana is coming from, who’s to say it’s not coming from sources outside the country and not being produced locally for the collective? We can say with certainty that some of the marijuana they were selling did not come from locally grown sources.”

Hardwood said the clinics were raided for selling non-collectively grown marijuana for purposes outside of medical use, rendering the businesses unlawful even by California regulations.

“They were operating like a retail membership kind of place — like a Costco, so to speak. Members were taking part in retail sales; this is why they’re illegal,” Harwood said. “The owner of PCC is already facing state charges, and the place in Summerland that the Feds dealt with — that woman is already being prosecuted by the state. We have yet to come across a storefront dispensary here in SB; none have been operating legally according to California law.”

Morzek said the raids did not target any of the members of the collectives, but were focused on instilling federal law among California’s clinics.

“We have no interest whatsoever in prosecuting or otherwise causing any legal problems for patients who might seek out marijuana to alleviate whatever problem they’re suffering from,” Mrozek said. “We’re interested in going after the profiteers — the people in commercial marijuana operations.”