It was around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, when Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies approached Jeff Kroll in his car and detained him. For 10 hours, acting on a search warrant, deputies began taking items from Kroll’s home and business, the Shangri-La Care Co-operative, a nonprofit focused on sharing medical cannabis with its members in Ojai.
Now, the city of Ojai and Kroll want answers.
By 3-2, the Ojai City Council voted to ask that the warrants used to enter the Shangri-La business and home of its owner, Kroll, be unsealed, but answers are still not forthcoming as the documents have been sealed by court order due to the active investigation.
Kroll says that deputies removed papers from the property as well as his personal cell phone, and then froze his bank accounts, both personal and business-related. All in all, Kroll says that deputies weren’t informed as to the nature of the cooperative.
“None of them knew that I had a business license, none of them knew that I was state-approved and had an active and good standing, none of them knew that we are a wellness center and we do consultations with each and every member,” said Kroll. “Their attitude was that there is no medical value in cannabis and as far as we’re concerned it’s all recreational.”
Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Curt Rothschiller said that there are many facets to the investigation.
“There have been numerous search warrants served on one of our open investigations in which Shangri-La came to our attention,” wrote Rothschiller in an email. “Shangri-La CoOperative was not the original focus and still remains just another branch in an ongoing investigation.”
Since the Oct. 6 search, 10 other warrants have been served in regard to the investigation.
The Shangri-La CoOperative was founded in 2009 and is the only such cooperative in the county. Medical marijuana dispensaries have been banned in most cities in Ventura County, but unlike a dispensary, Shangri-La does not have a storefront and marijuana is grown and shared only among members.
According to Ojai City Manager Robert Clark, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department performed a walk-through prior to Shangri-La’s business license approval in 2009, and another was completed and passed in 2014, confirmed by Capt. Rothschiller.
Kroll says that deputies took several pounds of experimental strains of high-cannibanoid marijuana from his safe and took many plants, leaving the co-operative crippled in providing for its membership, most of whom are seeking alternative methods to treat an illness.
Kroll says that some members have been concerned about a breach of privacy over the potential for medical records to have been taken from the property, but Rothschiller says that no medical records were seized. However, physician’s recommendations stating that a particular patient would benefit from the use of medical marijuana were taken from the property, according to Rothschiller.
The raid took place two days prior to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of three pieces of legislation that addressed medical marijuana and its regulation statewide.
AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643 standardize marijuana business licensing, testing, packaging and tracking of marijuana products, and create a new agency within the Department of Consumer Affairs called the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to oversee the system. Cities have until March 1, 2016, to draft local ordinances.
Ojai City Councilman Bill Weirick, one of the three who voted to draft a letter requesting that the search warrants be unsealed, says that he and the residents of Ojai would like answers.
“What was so pressing to justify the disruption of the medical care to this many people? What justifies that? If there’s some irregularities in the way they were operating, well then target the irregularities,” said Weirick. “What is going on here other than medical marijuana that justified disrupting the medical care for this many people? I think the Sheriff’s department owes these people an explanation of that.”
Rothschiller could not comment further because the investigation is still open and ongoing.