The U.S. Attorney's Office has filed civil asset-forfeiture lawsuits in Eagle Rock against three property owners who house pot collectives and sent warning letters to 68 others also in Eagle Rock, downtown Los Angeles and Huntington Park.
The warning letters give the operators and landlords two weeks to come into compliance with federal law or risk civil or criminal actions.
Prosecutors are looking to enforce a federal law that doesn't recognize a California initiative that legalized pot for medicinal use.
The three Eagle Rock properties named in the lawsuit include the Together for Change Collective, House of Kush and ER Collective, which are all located along Colorado Boulevard. The lawsuits claim that the owners of the properties knowingly allowed commercial marijuana stores to operate.
In addition to the lawsuits and warning letters, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office sent its own letters to some Los Angeles store owners, saying it is a violation of state criminal law to lease or make property available for a marijuana store.
Meantime, the Drug Enforcement Administration served federal search warrants at a number of Los Angeles-area shops including Happy Ending Collective, Green Light Pharmacy and Fountain of Wellbeing.
"They seized their marijuana, cash and in at least one case, guns from the inside of the store," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "We believe that many years ago, the medical marijuana movement was co-opted by the money from marijuana movement."
But others say these are medical marijuana collectives as approved by voters. David Welch is an attorney representing several of the locations targeted by the government.
"The citizens of California believe that medical marijuana helps people," said Welch. "They're doing their best to create some regulation and they're doing their best to create stores that pay taxes to abide for seriously ill people."
The city of Los Angeles has been trying to regulate marijuana clinics for years. As the two sides fought in court, the number of shops continued to grow. Medical marijuana proponents believe the city asked federal agents to move in.
"They're here to I guess put a lid on the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries," said Welch. "I think they're going about it the wrong way. I think we should let the voters' intent carry on."
"There's only one winner in all of this, and that's the cartels," said Jonathan Coleman outside one of the closed dispensaries Wednesday. Coleman came to the marijuana business and was disappointed to find it closed. He says he's the caregiver of an AIDS patient and now will have to buy marijuana from street dealers.
"He cannot get out his wheelchair and come up here," said Coleman. "And he's got leg problems, he's a vet, so yeah, this is kind of rough."
With the lawsuits and warning letters federal officials have targeted more than 375 marijuana businesses in Los Angeles. They say most of those are now closed. They also say there will be more.
The Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on storefront medical-marijuana dispensaries earlier this year, but the ordinance was put on hold when advocates submitted enough petition signatures to force a public vote on the issue. The City Council is expected to take up the matter before Oct. 7.