Appearing in the July/August issue of West Coast Cannabis. Look for it at your favorite dispensaries or head shops!
“There’s nothing you can do when you have all those guns pointed in your face,” says Sean Kush, Director of Hashbar.tv and the Medical Kush Beach Dispensary, a full bar-style hash lounge, a dispensary and dual entertainment activist-internet television station.
On April 20th, amid the 420 celebrations, Los Angeles Police “LA IMPACT,” (aka LAPD SWAT) raided Kush’s dispensary in full military gear, complete with semi-automatic weapons, to serve a warrant on the unarmed prescribing doctor whose office is adjacent the dispensary, while media and police helicopters swirled above. The warrant may have been for the doctor, but LAPD took the opportunity to raid the entire building, confiscating 50+ pounds (which has widely been reported as 5 pounds) of medicine and an unspecified amount of cash, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
“It is obvious to me that these raids are motivated not by any desire to enforce law from a public safety standpoint, but rather purely to provide revenue for cash-strapped law enforcement agencies who are working to pay their salaries next year,” says Eapen Thampy, Executive Director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, “The search of the entire building is above and beyond the scope of the warrant and the seizures are clearly a cash grab. There is nothing remotely Constitutional about this kind of general warrant or its service.”
Thampy is referring to the federal asset forfeiture system that incentivizes policing for profit. It works like this: local law enforcement can use federal law to seize your property and use it to buy military-grade weapons, including tanks and machine guns. Under this law the Department of Justice keeps 20% of seizure revenue, sending 80% back to state and local law enforcement, money that is used to perform more military-style raids on everything from home poker games to raw dairy providers and cannabis businesses, all without there ever being a charge filed against the raid’s target.
In addition, forfeiture money has systemically corrupted the criminal justice system. Law enforcement now uses SWAT teams on holidays or off-hours in order to exploit overtime or holiday pay benefits, money that often is 100% forfeiture money funneled through federal channels. Many prosecutors on the local, state, and federal levels use forfeiture dollars to fund their offices, and some federal agencies have even paid judges directly from forfeiture funds.
“They use the cash for all kinds of things, including cash payments to informants and military-grade weapons designed for use in war. . . Taxpayers are increasingly questioning the need for this kind of enforcement; these are practices they do not value and do not see as contributing to public safety,” says Thampy.
And this leaves Sean Kush in a complicated legal gray area. If he chooses to fight the LAPD on the raid it may not be worth the time, stress and legal fees. If he doesn’t then it’s like handing the police a license to steal. “I have already been screwed, so why do I now have to spend 50% of my stolen money to get it back?” Kush asks. “Venice is supposed to be one of the freest places.”
But this is L.A., land of who you know, how much money can be made off of you and how good you look. Unfortunately, unlike many other legal-medical cannabis regions in the state, the medical cannabis industry and its regulation also is about who you know, how good you look and most certainly how much money can be made from it. The police know this too.
So for now Kush is conducting business as usual. His dispensary, which is directly across the street from the iconic Muscle Beach Gym on the Venice Beach Boardwalk (which, for those who don’t know, is a virtual people-watcher’s paradise full of greasy, tanned Mr. T look-alikes, crackheads, street performers and hard bodies) still serves patients every day. His employees are gorgeous young women and his dispensary is almost always full. The Medical Kush Beach dispensary features a full bar and lounge where patients can purchase 4-hit “shots” of hash or flower for $7-$15. Business as usual.
Kush is an avid activist who uses every opportunity to promote legalization through Hashbar.tv. His staff is well-researched on the medical benefits of marijuana and specific strains in relation to different ailments. Webisodes run the gamut from celebrity visits to blatant activism. The website has plenty of followers internationally and is only growing. Not such usual business.
“Look at all these criminals,” Kush jokes as a dispensary employee assists a severely handicapped man up to the counter for medicine. The 420 raid and the City of Los Angeles’s misguided attempts at “regulating medical marijuana” have made it even more important to Kush, who was inspired by a visit from the late author and hemp advocate Jack Herer to do what he can to make a positive change in the laws. “We sat and talked awhile about hemp, about marijuana, and how we got where we are today,” Kush says, clearly in reaction to paying taxes to the County and then being robbed at gunpoint by law enforcement using taxpayer dollars.
Kush, inspired by Jack Herer, has devoted part of his site to promoting the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative (CCHHI), one of a handful of initiatives campaigning to be on the 2012 ballot. Herer authored the initiative, which would legalize cannabis for recreational use as well as legalize the cultivation of the non-psychoactive hemp plant.
I tried to figure out, from their point of view, why the LAPD used a SWAT team to serve a warrant on an unarmed doctor with no history of violence, why they then raided the dispensary they didn’t have a warrant to raid, to find out if the date (April 20th) was really such a coincidence. Unfortunately, I got shuffled between operators, my calls were dropped and I was referred to speak to a sergeant who was on vacation. LAPD could not be reached for comment, I may be cute enough but I guess I just don’t know the right people.
You can contact the LAPD by emailing them at email@example.com or calling (877) ASK-LAPD. Visit the Hashbar online at www.Hashbar.tv. To learn more about civil asset forfeiture, visit http://www.forfeiturereform.com