LAPD will continue to help with federal pot store raids

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police said Wednesday that they will continue to participate in federal raids on local medical marijuana dispensaries against the wishes of some members of the City Council.

A continuing conflict between federal and state drug laws, they said, has created a stalemate that doesn’t appear likely to soon end.

Officials with the Los Angeles Police Department contend that it’s their job to help enforce the federal law. Council members argue that police raids, at best, send a mixed message about the city’s support for the state law passed in 1996 to permit the use of marijuana for prescribed medical purposes.

The discussion before the council Wednesday sparked sharp exchanges between council members and LAPD Cmdr. David R. Doan.

At one point, a frustrated Councilman Bill Rosendahl told Doan, “You are the policing organization that follows the laws that we put in place. [It’s] not for you to interpret them.”

Later, under more questioning, Doan refused to waver. “If it’s going to be our position to say we’re not going to help the [Drug Enforcement Administration], I’m not authorized to make that statement today,” Doan said.

The council last month placed a yearlong moratorium on permitting new dispensaries in the city while lawyers draw up an ordinance to regulate them. At the time, several members of the council reiterated their support for the state law that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to exist.

On the same day the council passed the moratorium, the DEA raided 10 dispensaries in Los Angeles, with LAPD officers providing logistical support. DEA officials said the timing of the raids was a coincidence and that they were merely enforcing federal law, which continues to prohibit any sale of marijuana.

As supporters of medical marijuana looked on, frequently applauding or booing during Wednesday’s discussion, Doan told council members that the LAPD had a positive relationship with the DEA -- which helps with drug enforcement in the city -- and didn’t want to risk damaging that relationship. It is also LAPD policy, Doan said, to provide assistance with lawful federal warrants.

Doan said that it is the LAPD’s view that some of the city’s more than 200 dispensaries are a nuisance to their communities and that some are violating the state law that mandates they not profit on their sales.

However, Doan said he did not know why the DEA targeted the dispensaries that it did last month, nor did the LAPD apparently ask before agreeing to help with the raids.

DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen said Wednesday that the agency was not revealing the reasons it chose to raid the 10 facilities and that warrants for the searches remained under seal.

“The bottom line is anyone distributing marijuana is in violation of federal law,” Pullen said.

Both Rosendahl and Doan said that it remained unclear whether the council ultimately had the authority to tell the LAPD whether it was permitted to participate in the DEA raids. Local laws often shield police from such orders as a way to guard against political abuses.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said the LAPD didn’t always follow the federal lead. Over the years, the LAPD has ignored federal immigration laws and chosen not to ask people about their immigration status as a way to build a better relationship with the community, she said.

“When we come back with our new regulations, I will be one of those who will ask the LAPD to rethink your policy,” Hahn said.