The Independent has learned that HortiPharm Caregivers, a medical marijuana dispensary located at 3516 State Street, was raided by authorities Friday morning.
Details surrounding the incident remain murky, as calls to the city Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Department have yet to be returned. However, Chris Hermes with Los Angeles-based Americans for Safe Access confirmed that arrest warrants were issued for the owner and operator of HortiPharm and his wife. The wife’s business, Pizza Guru, was also targeted in the raid, Hermes said.
Authorities also purportedly investigated a number of homes owned by employees of the targeted dispensary and, Hermes said, one person is in custody, thought it is not clear who at this point.
[UPDATE, 3:16 p.m.]: Despite rumors bouncing about town, medical marijuana dispensaries Helping Hands Wellness Center and Pacific Coast Collective have not been raided and are currently open for business.
[UPDATE, 4:15 p.m.]: A medical marijuana patient from Ventura County who frequents HortiPharm Caregivers spoke with The Independent about his firsthand experience during the dispensary’s raid this morning. According to the eyewitness — a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times who wishes to remain anonymous — he arrived at HortiPharm sometime between 10:30-10:45 a.m. and was greeted by a person at the front desk.
After allegedly handing the person his medical marijuana card and driver’s license and waiting a couple minutes for what he assumed was verification of his membership, the witness was let into the shop’s main room. There, he said, the door was closed behind him and the man behind the front desk introduced himself as a Santa Barbara City police officer.
The officer purportedly told the patient that he wanted to ask him a few questions, saying that the police were gathering information on HortiPharm and conducting a “survey.” The officer, said the source, asked if he thought the dispensary was a collective, what legitimacy the owners and operators had as caregivers, and if he himself was a supplier. The line of questioning, relayed the witness, then shifted to more personal inquiries as the officer asked him what he did for a living, where he lived, and so on. The witness also noted that he saw around six officers behind the main counter sniffing marijuana baggies and joking around.
The witness said he was unclear if he was under oath or if his answers were on record. After 5-10 minutes of questioning the witness reportedly asked if he was free to leave, and was told he could. The officer he spoke to, he said, was friendly and cordial throughout the process. The source also said another patient was being interviewed at the same time he was, and that the man asked the officers if he needed to call his wife, who is a lawyer. The officers purportedly told him he didn’t need to.
On his way out of the shop, said the witness, he warned a few patients who were heading inside that police were within, causing everyone to get back in their cars.
[UPDATE, 4:44 p.m.]:A press release distributed by police spokesperson Lt. Paul McCaffrey at around 4 p.m. today confirms that police issued search and arrest warrants in connection with an “illegally operated marijuana dispensary” at 6 a.m. The raid of HortiPharm, said McCaffrey, was a joint operation between the Santa Barbara Police and Sheriff’s departments.
According to McCaffrey, narcotics detectives decided HortiPharm was “operating outside the limitations of the Compassionate Use Act” and that authorities had reason to believe its owners were laundering money through Pizza Guru. As of late Friday afternoon, HortiPharm was closed and its phones were turned off, but Pizza Guru was open.
A number of other locations were targeted in the investigation, he said: 304 Mesa Lane; 832 West Victoria Street; a residence on Almond Avenue (reportedly used as an indoor grow-house); 7553 Hempstead Avenue in Goleta; 5423 Santa Rita Road in Lompoc; and a storage facility in Goleta.
So far, five people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, and are facing the following charges: Carl David Quinn, 31, possession of marijuana for sales, bail $50,000; Nicole Cate McKernan, 24, possession of marijuana for sales, marijuana sales, bail $50,000; Tiffany Shinn, 25, possession of marijuana, cited and released; George Wardlaw, 46, possession of marijuana for sales; bail $30,000; Andrew Edison, 35, resisting arrest, cited and released. More arrests are expected.
As of 3:30 p.m., said McCaffrey, searches are still in progress, but authorities have thus far seized a “large quantity” of marijuana, hashish, growing equipment, and paraphernalia.