FBI, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department accused of breaking law in marijuana case
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Jan. 31. I’m Justin Ray.
An odd situation involving money from marijuana sales in California highlights the awkward tension between California’s progressive stance on cannabis and federal law.
The story begins in November, with an armored car carrying $712,000 in cash from licensed marijuana dispensaries. The car was heading to Barstow on a Mojave Desert freeway. The vehicle was pulled over by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies. They interrogated the driver, seized the money and turned it over to the FBI.
The same driver was pulled over again a few weeks later. During that stop, deputies took an additional $350,000 belonging to legal pot stores and gave that cash to the FBI, too.
The agencies are not returning the money. In fact, the FBI is trying to confiscate the nearly $1.1-million bounty, which it may share with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The FBI claims the money is tied to federal drug or money-laundering crimes. No specified unlawful activities have been disclosed, and nobody has been charged with a crime.
Cash seizures by federal authorities
The case may have bigger implications.
Judge John W. Holcomb of U.S. District Court in Riverside is currently weighing a request by Empyreal Logistics, the company whose armored cars were emptied, for an emergency order to force both agencies to stop pulling over cars and taking money without evidence of unlawful activities. The company also wants the money back.
The sheriff’s department and federal authorities deny wrongdoing.
“This is among the more egregious forfeiture cases that we’ve ever seen,” said Dan Alban, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group that fights forfeiture excesses nationwide and represents Empyreal in its lawsuit. Alban called the cash seizures a “very cynical attempt to exploit the differences between federal and state law” on marijuana.
The case is reminiscent of another in which the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles were forced to return tens of millions of dollars in cash and valuables seized by federal agents from hundreds of safe deposit boxes in Beverly Hills. The government was not able to provide evidence of wrongdoing after alleging that the money and goods were the result of criminal activity. It’s worth mentioning that some of that money belonged to owners of state-licensed marijuana businesses.
But there’s more to know about the case involving Empyreal vehicles pulled over by authorities, including more reasons why despite cannabis being legal in California it is difficult to operate in the industry in the state.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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I recently asked readers for the music they listen to when they want some nostalgia in their lives. Here is a response from Lisa Petersen:
Absolutely my California music memory is the song “Light My Fire” by The Doors. Every time I hear it I am transported back to the first time I remember hearing it, at a public pool in Clovis. I would have been 6 years old in 1967 when the song came out. We lived in Oakland, but would visit my great-great-uncle (an emigre from Denmark) during the summers. My siblings and I would be so bored visiting uncle, so we would go to the local pool. I clearly recall hearing this amazing song, with its haunting lead singer’s voice and the electric piano riff. Such an epic memory.
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