A group of medical marijuana shop owners are suing the city of Long Beach alleging a series of escalating tactics and “warrantless searches” as a pretext to disrupt their businesses and shut them down.
One of the raids was captured on surveillance video last summer and was distributed on YouTube.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday, alleges the city violated the business owners’ civil rights and violated their 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
City officials declined to comment citing the pending litigation.
The people who filed the lawsuit are owners and operators of 11 non-profit medical marijuana collectives -- which distribute marijuana to shops operating in and around the city of Long Beach.
The lawsuit alleges that the city engaged in “oppressive tactics” to try and force out the shops, first by enacting city zoning laws and an illegal lottery issuing permits to some shops. When these tactics failed, the lawsuit said, the city began using more aggressive tactics such as arresting owners and operators for misdemeanor violations of zoning ordinances and then using “warrantless searches.”
“The City of Long Beach initially attempted to stop medical marijuana collectives by enacting unlawful zoning laws banning all medical marijuana distribution,” the lawsuit said. “However, the zoning bans quickly proved ineffective as medical marijuana collectives successfully challenged them in court.”
When the city’s dozens of lawsuits seeking to close collectives failed, the lawsuit alleges, police were called in to use “warrantless searches” and search warrants secured by “judicial deception” to try to “disrupt” the shops.
The raids, in which police seized marijuana, money, vehicles and other property, were effective, court papers said. Many of the collectives went out of business. Shop owners declined to fight the city to get their property back out of fear of retaliation, court records said.
Police executed over 100 search warrants at collectives, some of which were raided multiple times in the same year. None of the raids led to the filing of criminal charges, the lawsuit said.
The issue came to light in July after a bust was caught on surveillance cameras showing an officer apparently stepping on the back and neck of one of the shop workers before handcuffing him. Two officers, one of whom appears to be undercover, are seen in the video smashing the cameras.
Video of the raid -- which ended in the arrests of five men on suspicion of operating a marijuana dispensary without a license -- was posted by YouTube user "Long Beach Raids" on July 1. Officials said they learned about the video on July 3.