Santa Ana's pot shop raids, marijuana policy targeted in lawsuit

Lawsuit in federal court accuses Santa Ana police officers of excessive force in a May pot shop raid

An Orange County marijuana dispensary and its members have filed a federal lawsuit accusing Santa Ana police officers of excessive force during a raid last month.

The suit, filed Monday by the nonprofit marijuana collective Sky High Holistic, further alleges that city officials, including Mayor Miguel Pulido, have solicited bribes in exchange for favorable treatment of dispensaries.

According to the complaint, police officers in the May 26 raid on Sky High Holistic -- captured on surveillance video that went viral after its release last week -- trampled over the constitutional rights of dispensary volunteers and members by arresting members for an “excessive” period of time, causing significant property damage, and making derogatory comments about a disabled woman.

The edited video, which was released by Matthew Pappas, the same attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the dispensary, shows Santa Ana police entering the dispensary and later, playing darts. At one point, an officer surveys what appears to be an edible, then tosses it into his mouth.

The Santa Ana Police Department is investigating the conduct of the officers in the video.

The lawsuit situates last month’s raid in the context of the city’s passage and implementation of a ballot initiative that imposed strict regulations on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Measure BB was one of two initiatives concerning medical marijuana on the November ballot, and the City Council-backed initiative imposed tougher regulations than the citizen-proposed measure, including limited business hours and a lottery system for dispensaries to get one of 20 permits to operate in the city.

Sky High Holistic did not receive a permit in the lottery.

According to the suit, Pulido and other city officials received lavish dinners, money and limousine rides around the time that Measure BB was presented to the council. An unnamed person also solicited $25,000 payments from existing collectives in exchange for a guarantee to be included in the lottery, according to the complaint.

The suit also claims Pulido has a financial stake in an unnamed medical marijuana collective that won a permit in the lottery.

In an interview with The Times, Pulido flatly denied the allegations in the lawsuit and said the lottery system was conducted entirely independently of the city through the accounting and consulting firm White, Nelson, Diehl & Evans LLP.

“Let me just state on the record, the allegations are unequivocally and categorically false,” Pulido said. “To allege there was some influence of the lottery and therefore it’s unfair is absolutely false.”

Pulido said the goal of the measure was to protect neighborhoods and commercial businesses by confining dispensaries to industrial areas. He denied having a financial stake in a marijuana business and said he did not receive lavish dinners or other perks for supporting Measure BB.

“The only limo I’ve been in is at my daughter’s 13th birthday party,” Pulido said.

He alleged that Sky High Holistic filed the suit in a bid to keep an illegally operating collective open.

The city’s police department sent a cease-and-desist order Feb. 26 to the dispensary, but it remained open, prompting the May raid, Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas said.

No medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to legally operate in Santa Ana after a ruling earlier this month in a separate lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court. In that suit, filed by three prospective dispensary operators, Judge David Chaffee issued a temporary retraining order that bars the city from granting permits.

Chaffee is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday over whether to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from moving ahead with the permitting process.

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