On September 5th, the Santa Ana City Council authorized the filing and prosecution of receivership actions–the legal process of temporarily taking property from a landlord and placing it with a court-appointed receiver–against four owners of six unlicensed dispensary locations. The collectives the city is targeting are: Herbology 35 Cap, 20 Cap Collective, Sky High Holistic Collective, Elevated Dreams Collective, LOL and Wax On Wax.
Since 2015, Santa Ana’s targeted enforcement has shut down over 100 unlicensed, or “rogue,” shops in the city. But there are a handful that have refused to shut down, thus why the city is taking receivership actions against them. City governments typically use measures this extreme when an abandoned or substandard property has a history of non-compliance with code enforcement or when a property is a threat to health and safety.
The City’s staff report says the unlicensed cannabis shops create extreme health and safety hazards due to: Unpermitted electrical, mechanical, and ductwork; unpermitted partition walls; modifications to electrical panels, and unpaid fines. The report also adds that, despite previous enforcement actions, the operators and property owners of these collectives have refused to comply with the City’s regulations.
“With the voter-approved Measure BB [that was passed in] December 2014, we laid a foundation to regulate and tax 20 medical cannabis collectives,” says David Benavides, Santa Ana councilmember. “Since that time, we have been aggressively working towards putting an end to rogue dispensaries and their negative impacts on neighborhoods and local businesses.”
Although Measure BB dispensary owners would agree that the rogue collectives need to shut down (because they take patients, and therefore income, away from the licensed shops due to cheaper prices), that notion isn’t unanimous. “The behavior of city officials in regard to supporting their group of licensed dispensaries over people who’ve existed for a long period of time is outrageous,” says Matt Pappas, Orange County cannabis attorney who represents several shops under siege by the city, including Sky High. “These collectives pay state taxes, don’t rip off their patients and aren’t hazardous. What’s dangerous about them are the Santa Ana cops who raid these facilities. It’s simply pandering to see these people who have used bribes and other mechanisms to influence the political process in a way that is adverse to patients and adverse to what all of us should believe in as government. Government is not supposed to do that.”
But Pappas isn’t the only one who’s against the shut down. Orange County veterans who suffer from PTSD, like Kristoffer Lewandowski, or handicapped patients, like activist Marla James who lives every day in a wheelchair, depend on the unlicensed shops because of their lower prices and willingness to help those who genuinely need cannabis. The reality is that most real cannabis patients aren’t financially able to spend $50-$80 an eighth– the price most Measure BB shops charge for herb. (Plus, who would want to?)
Santa Ana’s rogue shops have also provided a home to pro-cannabis groups, such as the Weed For Warriors Project (WFWP), allowing them to use their facilities for meet-ups. After the City shut down the Sanctuary earlier this year, the OC chapter of WFWP has since had difficulty finding a consistent location to hold their meetings. Most places–including the licensed dispensaries– don’t allow consumption on site, which is the essence of the WFWP: Veterans supporting the healing of other veterans through the use of cannabis.
With regard to the unlicensed shops, the City of Santa Ana views them through Reefer Madness lenses. Thus, an aggressive shut down like this is inevitable. In the past, however, when the City shut down a rogue, they’d open up again fairly quickly and in a new location. Will this happen again? “The continued existence of illegal marijuana dispensaries that operate in the city present significant challenges to the safety and quality of life in Santa Ana,” said Councilmember Juan Villegas. “However, the city’s multi-pronged enforcement efforts have resulted in an 84% reduction of illegal dispensaries in our community since the adoption of Measure BB.”