Making good on threats to in California that were issued Friday, federal officials have charged six people connected to a pot shop in the North Hollywood area with drug trafficking charges, according to a report in the Daily News.
The report identified NoHo Caregivers as the shop, which is a now-closed dispensary that was located at 12518 Vanowen St. in Valley Glen.
In relation to the NoHo Caregivers case, federal agents on Wednesday executed a search warrant at NoHo's former location, which is now occupied by a pot shop called Green Camel Collective, according to reports in the LA Weekly and USA Today. During the search, agents found two 16-year-old boys who were smoking marijuana inside the store and seized about 23½ pounds of marijuana and nearly a pound of hashish, according to the reports.
The actions taken against NoHo Caregivers and Green Camel by the feds were the only ones that took place in Los Angeles this week. Criminal actions were also filed against a facility in Orange County and stores in Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest,, Rancho Santa Margarita and in Riverside County and the Inland Empire, according to the reports.
NoHo Caregivers on Vanowen had also been facing legal pressure from the Los Angeles City Attorney after it received a letter in the spring because it had not registered for a planned city lottery that will only allow 100 shops to stay open. It isn't clear if its closing was related to the letter.
According to the reports, federal officials said investigators intercepted encrypted Blackberry messages of people connected with NoHo Caregivers detailing plans for the payment and distribution of marijuana that would result in the principals receiving more than $194,000 a month.
"It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said at a press conference Friday announcing the new aggressive federal policy. "While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California."
Meanwhile, medical marijuana advocates are furious at President Obama's reversal of a federal hands-off policy toward California's medical marijuana industry that had been in place since he took office.
"Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama administration," said Joe Elford, a lawyer with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "President Obama must answer for his contradictory policy."
The defendants in the NoHo Caregivers case were identified as Paul A. Montoya, 37, of Arleta; Noah Josh Kleinman, 36, of Santa Clarita; Kathy Thabet, 25, of Los Angeles; James Stanley, 33, of Grass Valley, Bryant Satson, 43, of Pennsylvania, and Casey Wheat, 40, of Huntington Beach.
According to the L.A. Weekly:
- Montoya was a co-owner of NoHo Caregivers and was arrested on Wednesday;
- Kleinman was a co-owner of NoHo and has agreed to surrender to federal authorities;
- Thabet was a courier and bookkeeper for the organization and was arrested on Wedneday;
- Stanley is an alleged marijuana grower and is currently a fugitive;
- Watson, a NoHo customer on the East Coast, was arrested in Pennsylvania on Wednesday;
- Wheat, who allegedly arranged to transport marijuana for NoHo, is currently a fugitive.
The City News Service contribued to this report.