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Outrage Over Costa Mesa Dispensary Raid

Bill Weinberg

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Another police raid of a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary was caught on hidden cameras—leading to accusations that officers exceeded their legal authority during the operation.

“These guys were doing this to shut down a business without due process because they don’t like it,” Matthew Pappas, attorney for the now-closed Costa Mesa Collective told the Orange County Register in an August 4 report. “They became judge, jury and executioner.”

Footage of the January raid shows officers, guns drawn, bursting through the front door of the collective and ordering a half-dozen people to the floor. It then shows them disabling video cameras—although hidden cameras continued to record the scene. Five people, including employees and patients, were arrested and spent four days in the Orange County Jail before being released without charge.

Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack declined to discuss the incident with the OC Register, citing an ongoing criminal investigation. But he said a code enforcement inspection warrant was obtained for the raid. He declined the Register‘s requests to produce a copy of the warrant.

Medical marijuana collectives are prohibited in the city of Costa Mesa. But Pappas questions whether Costa Mesa cops had legal authority to force their way into the dispensary, seize the digital recorder and remove items from safes.

The League of California Cities issued a report in 2010 regarding use of code enforcement inspection warrants, stating: “Warrants are not alternatives for police officers to circumvent the need to obtain a search warrant. There should not be any appearance that an inspection warrant is being used other than for health/safety inspections.”

The Costa Mesa incident recalls the highly publicized May 2015 raid of the Sky High Collective dispensary in Santa Ana, where police were filmed on hidden cameras scarfing down cannabis edibles and making disparaging remarks about a volunteer with disabilities. Three officers face charges of petty theft for allegedly consuming the edibles, and one faces an additional count of vandalism for allegedly breaking some of the dispensary’s surveillance cameras. The officers have pleaded not guilty. 

But Pappas finds the Costa Mesa case even more egregious. He told the Register: “Police did have a real search warrant for Sky High and gave an inventory list, while Costa Mesa did not.”

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