One of the most complex issues that conservatives and liberals have broken party lines over the years is the legalization of drugs. There have been republicans with a libertarian spine and liberals who represent conservative cities against drugs. Yet, while marijuana is now legal in California, there are former cannabis-based businesses who were the subjects of massive raids and arrests who now live a sad aftermath affecting them professionally and financially. Even though at the time the confiscation of drugs and other items were legal, now that these people are no longer considered criminals, the local government isn’t returning items seized, and for a government so quick to take, they should be just as fast to return.    

Over three years ago, a group of Ventura County Sheriff’s detectives barged into an Ojai medical marijuana cooperative, taking approximately 880 marijuana plants, different cannabis oils, electronics, cellphones and even member records. While violent criminals roam the streets, they decided to attack a 60-year-old businessman, Jeffery Kroll.

Kroll was charged with over 40 felony counts against him and his Shangri La Care Cooperative in 2016, just months before the Golden State voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Some of the allegations include the illegal sale or transportation of marijuana and manufacturing concentrated cannabis to money laundering and not filing income tax returns. Now that his business is completely legal, the charges cannot be moved forward with, but his items have not been returned.

According to a motion filed in the Ventura County Superior Court, none of Kroll’s or Shangri La’s property has been returned. The twist is that Kroll is not backing down, but instead is asking for $12 million because 3,100 pounds of his marijuana was destroyed in the raid. What’s most interesting is that none of that “evidence” was ever used for anything productive, but Kroll and his clients are still out millions of dollars. Had the raid involved only stealing items that could be preserved, like clothing, they would have been able to quantify the costs clearer. Instead, Kroll and company are now having to try to comprehend why the raid led to nothing but a loss of property.

“The members can’t understand why Shangri La was never charged, but the bulk of what they took is Shangri La’s assets,” said Kroll. “They want their stuff back.”

The most frustrating aspect is that while the government was so quick to take and mishandle, they are not as quick to make restitution. Kroll’s business and livelihood were stripped from him, and while many might brush it off because it was concerning drugs, that would be the simplistic way out. This was a person’s means of economics. This was a person’s ability to provide for themselves. And this raid was just a few months before California made everything in Kroll’s possession legal. The fix was in, it appears. The government wanted to raid this man, and before the vote to legalize weed. But why? To not send months of spying down the drain? It appears that by seizing the 3,000-plus pounds, the government knew it would at least be able to destroy the product. Getting the money back will be another uphill battle.

“There needs to be a court order to release it,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Erin Meister. “If they’re entitled to have the property back, they’re going to get it back.”

What we have here is a bias against recreational drugs, and the people who provide them. It’s frustrating because the country has moved on. Had this been the 1980s, maybe we’d be more inclined to see these raids in a more flattering light. But long are the days of seeing these “drug dealers” like a Scarface caricature. They’re now our neighbors. 

Local governments still think this war on drugs is productive. While seizing a large amount of drugs seems sexy to the Sheriff’s office, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and the costs alone were a waste to the taxpayers. Finding a crack dealer near a school would have been a better usage of their time, and much cheaper.

I’m not a drug user, but I have yet to meet the violent types of “criminals” who frequent legitimate dispensaries like Kroll’s and others. With so much else out there to investigate, we and Mr. Kroll deserve better.   

Firework shows supported by cannabis businesses

While the city of Oxnard planned to cut funding this year for the annual July Fourth fireworks show at the Channel Islands Harbor, five marijuana dispensaries in Port Hueneme have collaborated to foot the bill, $30,000, to ensure the show goes on.

The dispensaries include Skunkmasters, From the Earth, Wheelhouse, Hueneme Patient, and Safe Port.

Port Hueneme dispensaries also donated $35,000 earlier this year to purchase 100 new beds for the new homeless shelter in Oxnard.