Los Angeles Times

Authorities raid Costa Mesa marijuana dispensaries

COSTA MESA — When federal and local authorities raided Chadd McKeen's marijuana dispensary Tuesday morning, he was shocked.

He said his store, Otherside Farms, is cleaner, more transparent and in line with state medicinal laws compared to others in Costa Mesa.

Police and federal authorities executing a search warrant at the business Tuesday seemed to agree.

"This place is [expletive] awesome," one man was heard saying over security video, while others tried to open the door to where the marijuana plants are hung out to dry.

"I would definitely buy my weed here," another joked.

McKeen said he can boast about 1,200 regular patients — called customers, according to federal authorities — who visit the two-story business on Broadway, across the street from Triangle Square.

He said that while not completely surprised that the Drug Enforcement Administration ultimately shut down his place with help from local police and the U.S. attorney's office, he's baffled as to why his and one other dispensary nearby on Cabrillo Street, American Collective, were hit while dozens of others in the city remained in operation.

"I don't know what they were expecting," McKeen said Wednesday, standing at the store counter with dozens of empty jars behind him that usually carry various strains of marijuana. "A couple hundred plants? A few grand? I've got all my ducks in a row."

According to paperwork left with McKeen's business after the raid, the DEA and police took some 200 plants, all his cash, most of his electronic equipment and his bank records.

The raid was one of two that federal authorities conducted in Costa Mesa on Tuesday.

American Collective dispensary owner Jeff Byrne and McKeen said authorities first searched their homes before moving on to the businesses.

"The Police Department is proud to have been able to assist the DEA with this operation," said Costa Mesa police Lt. Bryan Glass. "In regards to any statements, we have to listen to the audio to put them in the proper context to evaluate them."

The U.S. attorney's office announced in October that it was coming after marijuana dispensaries statewide, specifically those that were in clear violation of the state's medicinal use laws.

"Marijuana is authorized under state law for patients and marijuana can be provided by their primary caregiver," said Thom Mrozek, the spokesman for the U.S. attorney office's Los Angeles district. "And what a primary caregiver does not mean is primary dope dealer. Any transaction between a primary caregiver and patient has to be nonprofit ... and there's profit being generated by these stores."

According to the federal affidavit, McKeen told a Costa Mesa code enforcement officer inspecting the business last year that he was prepared to give the city $250,000 after his first year of operation, and $500,000 every year after, as a donation to the city.

"I had a plan where we could generate about 10% of all the revenue toward a city fee," McKeen said Wednesday. "The city can't take money in any way. The only way to get money from this situation is by doing what they're doing. They hire people and come take people to jail."

McKeen said Otherside Farms made about $250,000 in its first 10 weeks in business.

"There's enough money in all of this for everybody to make a little money," he said. "My employees have health care. I created 20 jobs for people in the city of Costa Mesa."

In terms of shady, back-alley marijuana operations going on in Costa Mesa, McKeen argues Otherwise Farms was not one of them. He said they were in line with California's guidelines and required customers to have a prescription to buy.

Marijuana prescriptions, however, are infamously easy to come by in Southern California.

There's a memento from the National Football League with a dozen or so autographs hanging from a wall. McKeen said former NFL stars are among his clientele.

"We don't procure our medication from outside sources," he said. "There's a legitimate need for marijuana here."

As McKeen spoke, an employee followed him through the business, videotaping him survey the results of the raid. Authorities left the buckets he grew his plants in. Soil and marijuana leaves were strewn throughout the backrooms. He said he plans on posting the video online to "go viral."

McKeen is known in the Orange County marijuana dispensary community. His unique strain of the plant has been featured in Skunk magazine. The Orange County Business Journal profiled him last year and OC Weekly wrote about him in 2010.

The Daily Pilot interviewed him in March 2010 about a pot-growing class he offers.

"It's a cat-and-mouse deal because people can't come out and be honest because they're afraid they'll get stabbed in the back," he said. "I would've loved for the city to have a walk-through of the facility, but I'm afraid they'd use it against me."

According to Mrozek, Costa Mesa's concentration of dispensaries was what worked against the city.

"We have now targeted every single store in the city of Costa Mesa," Mrozek said. "We are not singling out any of the operations in Costa Mesa."

The U.S. attorney's office has sent letters to every dispensary ordering them to shut down all illegal operations in 15 days or get shut down, Mrozek said. The government is also suing some of the property owners who it claims have knowingly let illegal pot shops operate on their land.


Twitter: @JosephSerna

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