According to a Santa Ana Police Department investigator who spoke with the Weekly, 17 medical marijuana dispensaries were visited by police in the past week. 42 tickets were issued to dispensaries operating in violation of the city's 2007 ban on pot clubs, three of which–Wax City, Emerald, and Wax-R-Us–have now closed. The operation came in the wake of a July 15 city council meeting in which councilmembers voted to appropriate $500,000 for ongoing anti-pot enforcement actions.
During the aforementioned council meeting, Councilwoman Michele Martinez, in a seemingly spur-of-the-moment tirade, lambasted the lack of enforcement of the city's pot ban. She proceeded to call for a vote on a substitute measure which would put $500,000 toward the closure of "illegal dispensaries," which passed.
During public comments, and before Martinez spoke, dozens of Santa Ana citizens opposed to dispensaries voiced complaint after complaint, a diatribe that lasted nearly two hours. (The Voice of OC reported a more detailed coverage of the meeting here).
According to the police investigator who spoke to the Weekly, the ticketed dispensaries were chosen for their proximity to schools and high-density locations, with multiple shops near one another. However, councilman Sal Tinajero acknowledged that, while the targeted shops were closely bunched together, they weren't in fact in close proximity to either schools or residential neighborhoods. He further stated, "I will be looking into those closures. The true intent of what was passed at the Tuesday meeting was that we go after those dab bars that are near schools and begin there. By going after dab bars in an industrial zone, it doesn't increase the quality of life for anyone. In fact, there really is not much of a change. So I will be looking into that and addressing that issue, because we need to go after the dab bars that are within or near the school areas."
Randall Longwith, a lawyer representing several collectives within the city, told the Weekly, "Santa Ana has many options at their disposal…they're spending a lot of money going out there. From what I've heard, five to six or more units were deployed to specific shops, without any other reason or any other threat as it relates to violence or something along those lines. The cost of that, Santa Ana simply can't afford. An absolute waste of money."
The three shops that have shut down were operating within the same business plaza, off Dyer Rd. on the border of Santa Ana and Irvine. Multiple sources have confirmed that the trio all were selling and allowing onsite consumption of "dab" or "wax" concentrates, which are much more potent than normal cannabis. (At the council meeting, Martinez highlighted the need to shut down such clubs).
An dispensary owner who agreed to be identified by "Madi" voiced frustration at what he sees as an inane tactic by Santa Ana politicians. He, along with other sources, expects the owners of the shops that were closed to bounce back swiftly and open new locations. The guerrilla nature of the dispensary industry supports his assertion – without ongoing, diligent regulation, it is likely that this crackdown will not lead to permanent closures. Furthermore, he voiced mutual exhaustion from dealing with this issue along with police. He recounted officers entering his establishment, gung-ho at first, only to see the interior as a neat, tidy shop and being surprised. The officers reportedly relaxed and were almost apologetic. "They can't enforce the law if their heart isn't in it," he said. "It's going to get legalized, they're doing nothing [by shutting down shops]".
Longwith echoed this sentiment, expressing worry that the city that almost went bankrupt three years ago is now splurging on futile, last-minute measures that could be obviated when city voters get a chance to say how pot clubs should be regulated this November.
Both he and Madi expressed confidence that California will legalize recreational use in 2016, in which case, even if neither regulatory measure passes in November, a tidal wave of pot shops would flood the county, including Santa Ana. They, along with Mayor Pro Tem Tinajero, see this November's regulation proposals as a preemptive opportunity to limit the shops in the event legalization occurs.
"Two years ago, Santa Ana was…on the brink of filing bankruptcy," Longwith argued. "Today, Santa Ana has come out of that and they're in a position to have 30 million dollars in reserve fund right now. That could change in an instant . . . To spend… a half a million dollars, which is a drop in the bucket, and is going to end up, if they continue, to be millions and millions of dollars in enforcement efforts. It could very well bankrupt the city."