Claremont Insider: Marijuana News

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Marijuana News

Claremont's City Council may want to rethink it's consideration of a city ordinance regulating marijuana dispensaries in town.

The Los Angeles Daily News, a sister paper of the Daily Bulletin, had an article yesterday about a former dispensary owner pleading guilty to federal narcotics and money laundering charges:

Larry Roger Kristich, 65, who returned from Costa Rica last summer after being indicted, pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to one count of maintaining drug-involved premises and one count of promotional money laundering. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Kristich also agreed to forfeit more than $1.2 million cash generated by sales at his stores.

Kristich pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Manuel Real, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 21.

From 2002 through 2005, Kristich owned and operated Compassionate Caregivers, which had marijuana stores in Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, West Hollywood (which operated under the name The Yellow House), San Diego, Bakersfield and Ukiah. These stores sold marijuana, marijuana plants, THC-laced edible products (including candy bars, cookies and soda pop), and THC tinctures. Kristich was president of the company, which employed more than 200 people as growers, clone cultivators, drivers, directors, store managers, retail sellers (referred to as "budtenders") and security guards.

Kristich admitted that sales of marijuana and THC products at Compassionate Caregivers' stores totaled over $95 million. Kristich also admitted that he laundered more than $50 million of such drug proceeds.

Claremont's current city council currently has a three-person majority in favor a medical marijuana ordinance. Councilmembers Ellen Taylor, Linda Elderkin and Sam Pedroza have indicated in the past they may be willing to allow a dispensary in town.

In an unrelated Daily News article reporter Jason Kandel reported on violent takeover robberies occurring at San Fernando Valley marijuana dispensaries. In these instances, the employees of the dispensaries were innocent victims of robbers who targeted the clinics with the assumption that they generate pretty good cash flow as well as stocking a resaleable commodity, things that Larry Kristich could confirm.

Kandel's article said:

STUDIO CITY - Police today were searching for two men involved in an armed takeover robbery of a Studio City medical marijuana dispensary that netted the crooks $4,500 in cash and an unknown amount of pot, police said this morning.

Two men, described as African American, one armed with a shotgun, the other with a pistol, entered Wellness Caregivers on Ventura Boulevard about 1:30 yesterday, and ordered three employees to the floor, said Los Angeles Police Detective Joe Esquivel. One gunman tied up two employees with duct tape and locked them in a back room, while the second gunman took the manager room-to-room, seizing cash and pot, before taking off, Esquivel said.

No one was injured in the heist and no description of the gunmen was available. Nobody saw a getaway car. Police were hoping to retrieve surveillance video today.

Latest in string of heists

It was the latest in a string of similar heists in the San Fernando Valley -- at least the 14th such Valley robbery in the last two years. It comes as a Los Angeles medical-marijuana dispensary owner has installed a vending machine that offers up to an ounce of pot per week to pre-approved patients.

The outlets have become so prevalent - there are at least 232 in the city, 110 in the Valley - that late last year the LAPD put together a database of crimes that occur at or near them. Besides the 14 robberies, police have recorded more than 63 violent or major property crimes committed at these facilities in the last two years.

"There's a lot of crime associated with these places," said Los Angeles police Lt. Tom Murrell of the Devonshire Division, which investigated the Granada Hills incident. "It's becoming more and more prominent."

Jason Kandel also wrote about the robberies on the Daily News' Crime Blog:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when you have pot and cash at unsecured businesses - pot clinics - you're going to have a cottage industry of takeover robberies. The violence is making life hell for pot clinic employees, giving police more work, and in return forcing taxpayers to fork over more money to combat the problem.

It's unsurprising that the Claremont Police Dept. is against dispensaries opening in town. Not only might they have to monitor compliance issues, but they also might have to respond to these sorts of robbery incidents.

Of course, it's not like Claremont hasn't had these things happen without marijuana being involved.