On the afternoon of Feb. 3, Long Beach's leafy Bluff Park neighborhood resembled a major crime scene. Police cruisers with flashing lights idled near the intersection of Temple Avenue and Broadway Boulevard, while undercover backup units parked on side streets. Asked about all the activity by a reporter who happened by his vehicle, an officer on the scene remarked that the police were busy carrying out a "narco operation."
But despite the ominous verbiage, the perps weren't exactly dangerous criminals. Instead, they were proprietors of the One Love Beach Club, a family-run cannabis collective that had been operating openly, if quietly, in the city for years. Police raided One Love after a detective provided the club with a doctor's note as well as a driver's license and proof of city residency. The sting operation—if you can call it that—flies in the face of state law, which allows cannabis clubs to provide marijuana to patients with a physician's note.
After the club sent one of its drivers to deliver the cannabis, police pulled over the vehicle, impounded it and arrested the driver before bashing down the dispensary's door with a battering ram. "They could have knocked on the door, but they had just started using the battering ram and wanted to see how it worked," said One Love's owner, Jeff Abrams, who was out on a delivery when the raid took place but whose two adult sons were detained inside the shop. "They were right there with the key, but they smashed it in, and they were giddy about how well the battering ram worked."
Although the police claim to have confiscated 600 marijuana plants, Abrams says that, in reality, only one-tenth of the plants were flowering. "They took 59 mature plants and 60 mother plants that never flower," Abrams explained. "The rest were 512 clones that we sell to people so they can grow their own cannabis and stay out of harm's way of the Long Beach narcotics division."
The police also carted off all of One Love's patient records, which Abrams says is a violation of the dispensary's federal privacy rights. "This was a closed facility—no public going in or out," Abrams said. "A lot of our members are teachers and other people who don't want to be seen walking into a marijuana dispensary just to get their medicine," he continued, adding that one of his patients is a DEA agent.
Abrams opened One Love in 2009, back when the Long Beach City Council was eager to regulate pot shops and figure out a way to make cash on the cultivation and sale of cannabis. He and his sons (college graduates who had tried their hands with a dispensary in Los Angeles but were hoping to stay closer to home) met with city officials and were among the "lucky" winners of the city's November 2010 lottery, which allowed several dozen dispensaries to apply for permits. "We were on the front page of the Long Beach Press-Telegram," Abrams recalls, with more than a hint of bitterness in his voice. "We paid 17 different fees to various Long Beach city agencies. Everybody wants to put a hand in your pocket, but that's okay."
By the time the city reversed course and passed an outright ban on storefront dispensaries in 2011, Abrams said, he had spent tens of thousands of dollars making his dispensary meet the city's strenuous codes. He considers himself luckier than some of the other lottery winners who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in high-tech cannabis-cultivation and -distribution centers that have never opened, despite the fact that in both 2010 and 2014, city residents overwhelmingly supported initiatives to regulate and tax medical-marijuana collectives in the city.
"We have a 15 percent tax on recreational marijuana and a 6 percent tax on medical marijuana on the books already," Abrams said. "But the city has taken in none of this revenue for six years, and now they have the balls to ask for a 1-cent sales tax because they are broke, instead of just allowing revenue collection from the marijuana industry."
The timing of the raid of the One Love dispensary highlights the city's bipolar stance on medical marijuana. On Feb. 2, the City Council voted down a proposal by Councilwoman Suzie Price (a prosecutor with the Orange County district attorney's office) that would have allowed delivery services to operate legally in Long Beach. Although the city had initially considered allowing 36 delivery services, that number had gradually dropped from 27 to 18 to nine. Price's measure would have restricted the number of delivery services to just four—a number viewed as a betrayal by medical-marijuana activists such as Abrams—but apparently still too high for her colleagues to allow.
Despite the failure of Price's pro-delivery ordinance, not to mention the raid of his club, Abrams said he will continue to deliver cannabis to his roughly 300 members. "I promised my patients we will never stop serving them unless I am dead or in jail," he said. "Within 24 hours, I had vendors stepping up to help me with inventory. There is always a way. We are the cockroaches, and they think they can stomp us out, but they can't."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Along with his wife and two sons and another driver, Abrams faces misdemeanor charges stemming from the raid; the driver who was arrested during the raid was charged with felony transportation of $150 worth of marijuana. Because of the driver's legal status, Abrams declined to make the driver available for an interview. However, another driver who worked for One Love until the day of the raid agreed to speak anonymously.
"My delivery job was one of the more unexpectedly fulfilling jobs of my life," the driver said. "Many of our patients were people with limited mobility who, even if the ban on storefront dispensaries were lifted, would still have trouble accessing their medicine without the delivery service. The gratitude that many expressed was very touching."
On two separate occasions, the driver recalled, he was told that he was doing "God's work," which, he says, was more appreciation than he'd ever received in any other job he's worked.
"I delivered to patients with MS, cancer, cerebral palsy," the driver continued. "I never once feared anything from any of them, but there was always the fear of being arrested." After the raid, when the other driver was charged with a felony, he reluctantly quit. "I no longer could fool myself into thinking that the Long Beach City Council and police force wouldn't go out of their way to interfere with sick people getting their medicine," he said. "Mission accomplished, Long Beach, I guess."