Jun 032011

Attorneys for medical marijuana collectives on Thursday disputed Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims’ claim that the collectives are “money-making drug operations” and are illegal.

“The Board of Supervisors made it clear in December that instead of regulating [the collectives] they wanted to ban them all,” said attorney Brenda Linder of Fresno, a spokesman for EarthSource, one of five collectives raided Wednesday. “I assume they set about doing it any way they could.”

But Linder called Wednesday’s operation “an excessive use of firepower and force, if they’re just looking for paperwork.”

About 200 law-enforcement officers took part in Wednesday’s raids, Eddie Jimenez reports in the Fresno Bee. Officers seized the collectives’ marijuana in addition to serving search warrants seeking bank and telephone records.

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Cash transactions at collectives may cover more than the cost of marijuana, but that doesn’t make them for-profit, said Bruce Margolin, a Los Angeles attorney who said one of the Fresno County collectives had contacted him about legal representation. Collectives may charge customers enough to cover operating expenses, rent and employee salaries, Margolin said.

The collectives can charge legal marijuana card holders a reasonable amount of money for products, Mims said, but they can’t make a profit.

At a news conference Thursday, Mims said other collectives suspected of similar activities are under investigation.

There are about 15 medical marijuana collectives in unincorporated Fresno County, and “I don’t believe any of them are operating legally,” she said.

Mims said authorities are reviewing evidence to determine what charges and indictments may be filed. That could take several months, she said.

On display at the sheriff’s news conference were items seized in the raids at five dispensaries – four in the Tarpey Village area along Clovis Avenue on Fresno’s eastern edge and one in Friant. There were various medical marijuana products, about $300,000 in cash and five weapons.

Mims said more cash remained to be counted and could total up to $100,000. She said the collectives were bringing in $25,000 to $50,000 a day.

County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said her office, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, would prosecute any charges.

Law-enforcement officials made no arrests while serving search warrants Wednesday at the five dispensaries.

The four Tarpey Village collectives were closed Thursday morning. A man at the Buds 4 Life collective said the store in Friant also was closed.

A message written on a poster board outside the Buds 4 Life store on Clovis Avenue read: “Closed for business. Open for friendship.”

Some neighbors of the Tarpey Village collectives said the crackdown couldn’t have come soon enough. But dispensary clients said they were disappointed that more sources of medical marijuana were being targeted.

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