US Department of Justice Announces Support to Lake Forest to Identify and Remove Commercial Marijuana Operations

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Department of Justice sent formal notice of violation to marijuana stores in Lake Forest, warning owners of criminal prosecution, fines, forfeiture of property and money received from marijuana sales.

The commercial marijuana industry is illegal and subject to federal enforcement wherever it is found.

Lake Forest city officials strongly support the actions outlined in an October 7 letter to the City detailing renewed efforts by the US Department of Justice to combat the commercial marijuana industry in Lake Forest and throughout the Central District of California. “In choosing to take these actions in your city and nearby communities, we have noted the substantial efforts your city has made on its own to combat commercial operations through both civil and criminal enforcement,” wrote US Attorney André Birotte. The letter also discloses civil complaint filed in federal court against three properties, one of which is located in Lake Forest, seeking forfeiture of properties along with seizure of bank accounts.

The October 7 letter is in response to a May 2011 letter sent by the City Attorney to the United States Department of Justice seeking assistance in the City’s efforts to eradicate illegal marijuana businesses. The May 2011 letter describes the costly and time-consuming legal fight by the City to close marijuana stores operating in violation of its municipal code and federal law. Since 2009, the City of Lake Forest has been in active civil litigation to enforce its municipal code, which prohibits any business that violates state or federal law, and prohibits land uses not explicitly allowed in the municipal code.

The letter describes an extended legal battle involving numerous dispensary lawsuits and court hearings. Yet despite prevailing at the Superior Court level, approximately 12 businesses continue to distribute marijuana from Lake Forest storefronts. The letter requested help in combating the illegal marijuana stores in Lake Forest that openly flout federal, state and local law.

“I don’t believe there is another community in the nation that has invested the time and resources to fight the battle against illegal marijuana stores like the City of Lake Forest,” said Mayor Peter Herzog. “The City is greatly appreciative of the United States Department of Justice and US Attorney André Birotte Jr.’s assistance in this serious problem.”

Over the past three years, there have been 33 different marijuana businesses operating in various commercial locations in Lake Forest. In some cases, the property owners worked cooperatively with the City to close the illegal businesses without litigation. In other cases, the City was forced to initiate litigation. According to Lake Forest’s litigation attorney Jeffrey Dunn, “Cities all over California are struggling to manage the exploding number of marijuana businesses, which attract violent crime, assaults, burglaries, loitering, increased traffic, noise, and illegal use of marijuana at or near the facilities.”

One commercial center, mentioned in a July 2009 Wall Street Journal article, has operated as a “supermall” of marijuana. With eight open marijuana stores, the property owners and marijuana store operators of 24602 Raymond Way, Lake Forest, are fighting closure. “The marijuana retail operations at 24602 Raymond are an especially egregious situation, and, to make matters worse, they are located near a school,” said Mayor Herzog. “Despite an Orange County Superior Court judgment issued last April ordering their closure, the City has been unable to close these businesses because of the dispensaries’ legal maneuverings and delays at the appeals court level.” Currently, the City is awaiting rulings by the state Court of Appeal of the Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana regarding the April 2011 closure order due to proximity to a school, as well as long ago appeals by the dispensaries of a May 2010 Orange County Superior Court Order to close eleven marijuana stores operating illegally in Lake Forest.

The City has reached legal settlements with other parties, most recently with the property owners of 24601 Raymond Way, Lake Forest (not the subject of current federal actions), once home to the Bulzi RX, Vale Tudo, and 215 Agenda marijuana stores. This included an agreement by the property owner not to lease to marijuana store tenants in the future.

The Lake Forest City Council has had longstanding concerns about the illegal activity that occurs in and around these stores, including their threats to public safety. “The City Council has been unanimous in its stand that there is no place for marijuana businesses in our community,” said Mayor Herzog. “We refuse to compromise the City’s quality of life by allowing these illegal drug outlets to continue.”

The City has taken no position relative to the use of medicinal marijuana for personal use by seriously ill individuals where the medical use is deemed appropriate by a physician.

The City of Lake Forest, California, is a suburban community of 78,000 located in south Orange County. Police Services are provided, via contract, by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

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