California cities that have chosen to ban or limit marijuana dispensaries seem to have found some common tools for ousting those dispensaries continuing to operate illegally. The first city actions seeking to force the removal of illegal dispensaries involved civil lawsuits seeking temporary restraining orders. Typically, the dispensaries would ignore the first court orders to close and force the cities to pursue contempt actions. Although the dispensaries would typically close once faced with potential jail time if convicted of contempt, this avenue proved unsatisfying for citizens seeking a quicker resolution to the drug sales in their neighborhoods.
The City of San Bernardino was the first to publicly move away from the temporary restraining order/contempt path when it closed a number dispensaries using abatement warrants. Abatement warrants proved more satisfying to a city’s desire for quick closures. Executing these warrants, however, can require a large amount of staff time from multiple departments.
Until recently, the DEA assisted some California cities with “raids” that would close dispensaries. This assistance, however, seemed to all but disappear as Colorado and Washington passed their recreational use laws. Many California cities will be pleased to learn that the DEA has not disappeared entirely. According to this Los Angeles Times article, the DEA recently assisted the City of Los Angeles in closing dispensaries operating in violation of LA’s limitation on dispensaries.
Another less known tool in the toolbox, and maybe one of the most effective, is a letter campaign to property owners in the city. Many property owners simply do not understand the state of California law when it comes to leasing to marijuana dispensaries. Many cities see a lower rate of illegal dispensaries if they take the preemptive measure of mailing informational letters out to commercial property owners explaining that using property in their city for the sale or distribution of marijuana is illegal and can result in severe sanctions.